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Dec 30, 2002

Tropic Caravan makes wet landing with 13 onboard

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Tragedy in the air was narrowly avoided late Friday evening after a Tropic Caravan was forced to make a wet landing just shy of the island’s airstrip. News 5′s Jacqueline Woods has the details.

Jacqueline Woods, Reporting

It had been raining all day when Gulf Hotel, a Cessna Caravan 208, owned by Tropic Air departed the Phillip Goldson International Airport for San Pedro Ambergris Caye. Pilot Roy Bradley had thirteen passengers onboard…two French nationals and twelve Americans. It should have been a routine thirteen minute flight, but two miles short of the runway, Captain Bradley was forced to make an emergency landing. According to Tropic, a bout of bad weather on his final approach to the island’s airstrip forced the wet landing.

Johnny Greif, President, Tropic Air, Via Phone

“The pilot upon approaching San Pedro, heard a whole lot of traffic trying to land, and the weather was getting bad, so he decided to divert to the west, or to the left as he was coming to San Pedro and wait for the traffic to clear. When he heard on the radio that there was a space for him to land, he made a beeline from his position to the west to the end of the runway, and sometime before he landed, he encountered a severe thunderstorm, and within that thunderstorm, a microburst, which is a strong directly downward draft, the plane started to sink very quickly. He applied full power to fly out of it, and tried to make the plane go up in the air by pulling back on the stick, but it was all too late.”

Tropic says as the tremendous wind pushed against his aircraft, Bradley had to try to land the plane and save his passengers’ lives.

Efrain Gomez, Chief Civil Aviation Officer

“The pilot maintained control of the aircraft until hitting the water, because it didn’t disintegrate on landing. The passengers all exited and they were saved, so that’s a good sign that the aircraft apparently did a “Benny landing”. And then it didn’t flip over or anything, so looked like the pilot was well aware that he couldn’t do anything else but to go down, and then he just hit the water.”

Captain Roy Bradley, with several hundred flying hours with the Caravan under his belt, safely brought down the aircraft in shallow waters. According to Chief Meteorologist, Carlos Fuller whenever an aircraft encounters such a weather condition, there is not much a pilot can do.

Carlos Fuller, Chief Meteorologist

“What a pilot experiences first of all, is that as he is approaching to land, he always lands into the wind, against a headwind. Now if you have a microburst or a downdraft, the wind suddenly changes direction and comes down. So instead of feeling a wind, let’s say ten miles per hour in front of him, you suddenly get a gust of twenty-five or thirty miles from the back of the plane, or from the side of the plane pushing it downward. So he already has his machine headed downward trying to land and suddenly a wind comes accelerating him towards the surface; so he has very little time in which react.”

None of the passengers onboard were hurt. The incident is being investigated by the Civil Aviation Authority. According to chief civil aviation officer, Efrain Gomez, their initial work has revealed that it was largely due to weather conditions that the plane was forced to land, but did admit that if there was enough time, the pilot could have made the decision to fly back to the international airport, but there were other planes landing in San Pedro an that is why Bradley decided to continue with the flight.

Efrian Gomez

“In encountering bad weather you can decide right away, you have a full aircraft and if you know you’re gonna have problems, you come back to a safe airport. And this is the safest airport, the international airport.”

Due to inclement weather, efforts to remove the plane from the salty water have been difficult. The plane suffered major damage to its propellers and is considered a total loss. Jacqueline Woods for News 5.

News 5 understands that while at least five of the tourists who were onboard the caravan did decide to cut their trip short and return home, the others have remained in San Pedro.

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