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Nov 21, 2017

D.P.M. Faber Tells Story of Placencia Plane Crash

The Garifuna Settlement Day holiday weekend proved deadly on Belize’s roads, particularly the Hummingbird Highway, where three fatal crashes took place at the same stretch of road in less than forty-eight hours. Four persons lost their lives as a result. We will have a chronicle of each incident later on, but we lead tonight with an update on the unexpected plane crash last Friday morning. The then Acting Prime Minister Patrick Faber and Immigration Minister Godwin Hulse along with nine other persons, including the pilot, went down in a Tropic Air plane off the shoreline of Placencia. The aircraft had just taken off from the runway when one of its wheels hit a passing vehicle and ended in the Caribbean Sea. Luckily everyone was rescued and persons from both the aircraft and the vehicle escaped with minor injuries. As a joint investigation continues the DPM today spoke of his experience as the plane went down. News Five’s Duane Moody reports.

 

Duane Moody, Reporting

A joint investigation by the Belize Airports Authority, Civil Aviation and the Police Department is currently underway into the accident that sent a Tropic Air plane carrying passengers into the sea in Placencia. During liftoff just before nine o’clock on Friday morning, the aircraft would clip a Subaru SUV near the end of the runway; the vehicle sustained extensive damage to the right passenger side, trapping an occupant inside, but the plane would hover for a few seconds before it came crashing into the sea, some hundreds of feet away.

 

Gilberto Torres

Gilberto Torres, Deputy Director, Civil Aviation

“The investigation is still ongoing, but to tell you some basic facts: on the seventeenth of November, a Tropic Air aircraft departed from the Placencia Airstrip. Flight 3073; the aircraft had originated from the Sir Barry Bowen Municipal Airport in Belize City and it was going all the way to Punta Gorda. The Aircraft is a Cessna 208 with eleven persons on board; nine passengers and two crew [members] departed the Placencia airstrip and then bound to Punta Gorda. In its departure, the aircraft came into contact with a vehicle which caused the aircraft to ditch into the sea.”

 

It was a frightening ordeal for those inside the SUV and the V3HGX caravan. Traveling at the time to Punta Gorda were Amanda Burgos from the Belize Audubon Society and a personnel from PACT as well as Deputy Prime Minister Patrick Faber and Immigration Minister Godwin Hulse, who were heading for the opening of the P.G. Sporting Complex. Faber, who sat directly behind the pilot, recounted his experience, saying that he couldn’t swim and was assisted on to the wing of the submerged plane.

 

Patrick Faber

Patrick Faber, Deputy Prime Minister

“I couldn’t tell that anything was wrong when the plane was taking off from Placencia until we heard the loud crashing sound and then realized quickly as we continue to ascend that there was a problem; that something was terribly wrong. We ascending I think for another few seconds, maybe up to a minute, and then realized that we were going to go down pretty fast. I think the pilot lost the engine and we then decided to brace for impact. All that was going through my mind was that this can’t be real, this can’t be happening—this is something that I’m sure everybody who rides one of these planes, think about all the time, but you never really believe it is going to happen and here it was happening. I really believe that the pilot did a very, very skillful job at landing the plane in the manner in which he did that proved in terms of the physical impact on the passengers to be very little. So the landing was pretty much a jolt forward. Later on we would see that that produced a huge bump on the head and a burst even for the pilot and for a few other people, including Minister Hulse, a bruise on the face. I was fortunate not to experience any of that; one little scratch, it is not even anything to talk about is what I experienced. But later on I would find out that I did have some muscle spasm in my back and also some tension in the forehead and also in the side of the face; chewing for the next couple of days would be difficult. But the most difficult part for me is when we touched the water. I will tell you that I am a non-swimmer so that became a problem for me.”

 

In the immediate aftermath, the Tropic Control Tower received a called on the accident and an investigation team was formed and dispatched to the scene. As the team worked over the extended weekend and remains on the ground today, on Monday, the wreckage was extricated from the waters.

 

Gilberto Torres

“The aircraft has been taken out of the waters and has been placed into a confined area so that the investigators from the Belize Department of Civil Aviation in coordination with our ministry, the Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation, can continue with the investigation.”

 

It is known that there were several safety measures put in place to avoid collisions. Deputy Director of the Civil Aviation Department, Gilberto Torres says that aside from the investigation determining who is responsible for the accident, safety protocols will be revisited.

 

Gilberto Torres

“The management and the administration of all government-owned aerodromes such as the Placencia is vested under the Belize Airports Authority and we coordinate with them on a daily basis to ensure that safety is never compromised. And as such there are certain procedures in place so that we can guard and protect arriving passenger aircrafts. As is in Placencia, there is a procedure in place; there are road markings, there are barriers in place and the public should adhere or abide to these directions so as to avoid mishap that we had on Friday.”

 

Arnie Whyte

Arnie Whyte, Responder [File: November 17th, 2017]

“Upon reaching the airstrip, we stopped because one of the barriers was done, but we neva notice if the plane was landing or taking off. Upon reaching at the bump, we noticed that the plane was taking off and the next barrier was not down and the driver just jump the bump and continue drive completely around. And upon reaching the center of the curve, the right wheel of the plane just collided into the vehicle and the plane just continue before it went down in the water.”

 

Duane Moody for News Five.

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