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Nov 21, 2005

Wreckage of plane found ? pilot, couple killed

Story PictureIt was like a scene from a tragic movie: two people on their honeymoon when their plane crashes into a mountainside killing them and their pilot. The search immediately began but bad weather and jungle coverage hampered efforts to recover the aircraft and the bodies. But this sad story is not from a movie and we cannot rewrite the terrible ending. All we can do now is try to find out exactly what happened to a private plane that crashed into a mountain on Friday, killing a Belizean man and two guests to our country. Karla Heusner was at the Philip Goldson International Airport this morning for a press briefing on the official investigation.

Karla Heusner, Reporting
Belizean Rene Tam, pilot of the twin engine Islander belonging to Blancaneaux Lodge picked up Doug and Cristy Scratchley at the P.G.I.A. on Saturday morning. They had just come in from Ambergris Caye where they spent a few days at Victoria House. The happy young couple was on their honeymoon, married only a few days ago in St. Petersburg, Florida.

According to Civil Aviation authorities, the first part of their thirty-five minute journey to the Privacion airstrip near Blancaneaux was uneventful. Tam?s last radio contact was made at 10:16 a.m. near La Democracia. According to authorities who heard the tape, it was a routine position report made on the common frequency used by all pilots as they leave the air traffic control space around the P.G.I.A. Around 12:50 p.m., a report came into the control tower that the plane never arrived at its destination. Despite the increasing bad weather from Gamma, a search was immediately launched. On Saturday afternoon the wreck was located, just three miles from Blancaneaux on the property of Hidden Valley Falls Inn by a volunteer search party from the inn. Today details of the crash are still sketchy.

Jose Contreras, Director Civil Aviation
?The exact time when it went down we cannot determine. We understand that they heard the aircraft circling very low over Unitedville and also the persons that worked in the area of the resort also heard the aircraft flying very low.?

Francis Lizama, Flight Operations Manager
?The general area we are talking about is very hilly. We are fifteen feet above sea level here at the airport. The elevation at that point would be between fifteen and two thousand feet elevation. So the terrain is very high and it?s not the normal type of terrain you would fly flying at flat elevations.?

And While Director Contreras says the Civil Aviation Authority can put limits on arrivals and departures from the international airport, the rest of the trip is outside their control.

Jose Contreras
?The pilot looking at the weather conditions, it will be his decision to fly into that condition. We will regulate the?when we say regulate, we will put limitations toward departure and arrival of aircraft at the Philip Goldson International Airport because that?s a controlled air ground. The weather, a destination en route, or alternate air grounds is the responsibility of the pilot to make sure that the weather at that destination is suitable so that an aircraft can make a safe landing.?

?The small craft warning is not applicable to aircraft… The visibility at this airport was more than ten kilometres. The visibility at the destination airport, we cannot say.?

According to Francis Lizama who heads Flight Operations, pilots often have to make difficult choices when faced with adverse conditions.

Francis Lizama
?Sometimes in those conditions, visibility is very, very poor. You sometimes lose land mass, land area, and most of the time pilots who penetrate the area get into that location or simply return back to their normal base that they came from.?

Civil Aviation authorities say their investigation could take weeks, if not months to complete. All aspects will be examined, from weather conditions to mechanical difficulties to possible pilot error. Karla Heusner reporting for News Five.

Director Contreras says Tam had over nine thousand hours flying experience and obtained his license from the Federal Aviation Authority in the U.S. in 1991. Up until six months ago he was chief pilot for Maya Island Air before taking up the job at Blancaneaux Lodge. He leaves behind his wife, Jackie, and four children. An autopsy was performed on the bodies of Doug and Christy Scratchley this afternoon which showed that Christy died instantly of multiple injuries. Her husband Doug, however, did not display any major internal injuries and instead bled to death from a deep laceration in his right leg. Both were seated in the rear of the plane. Doug’s step-father David May told News Five the couple had a beautiful wedding and were enjoying their stay in Belize very much. He says he and his wife may come to Belize in a few months, when they feel up to it, to lay a wreath at the crash site.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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