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Mar 26, 2008

BERT plane makes marshy landing at municipal airport

Story PictureA flight from San Pedro to Belize City is a mere eighteen to twenty minutes … but this morning time stopped for the occupants of a single engine air ambulance after their aircraft malfunctioned while landing at the municipal airstrip. News Five’s Marion Ali was on the scene and reports that thankfully no one was injured.

Marion Ali, Reporting
It was supposed to be a routine flight to and from San Pedro Town to airlift a patient to the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital. But when BERT’s Wings of Hope aircraft landed around eleven this morning at the Belize City Municipal airstrip with patient and paramedic on board, its touchdown was anything but normal. Pilot, Mark Thompson of BERT, explained that when he realised the aircraft’s left brake had failed, he made the decision to veer right into the marshy soil rather than roll into the Caribbean Sea ahead of him.

Mark Thompson, Pilot, BERT
“The landing went well. I cleaned up the airplane and when I begin to apply the brake pressure to stop the airplane I noticed that the left brake was mushy and afterwards I lost all control of the left brake; total brake failure. And the plane began to veer to the right so I had to make a choice, I either go off the end into the water or go off on the right side. So I chose the right side because the mud, I know it’s soft and it would help me to stop the airplane and which it did was to avoid injuries to the passengers and myself. Thank God it had a good stop so everybody is okay.”

The Civil Aviation Department has already begun its investigations into the mishap. Air Worthiness Inspector Brian Dominguez, says one way in which they try to prevent such occurrences is by conducting frequent inspections.

Brian Dominguez, Air Worthiness Inspector, Civil Aviation Dept.
“These aircrafts are periodically checked. We do spot checks. There’s a series of surveillance that we carry out within the year. However at the end of their year for their certificate of air worthiness we do go out and do an inspection on them. Regarding this particular aircraft, which is a November registered, it’s an American registered aircraft, what we do is we see that the maintenance schedules or cycles, the registering state calls for maintenance to be done, we ensure that this is being carried out. And this is an aircraft that we ensure that these things are carried out with.”

According to BERT National Coordinator, Yvette Burkes, the single engine Piper Cherokee Six was due to undergo an inspection on Thursday.

Yvette Burkes, National Coordinator, BERT
“This aircraft is due for its annual inspection. It has nothing to do with the incident itself. This is just something we do. We keep the aircraft very highly maintained. We do fifty-hour inspections, hundred-hour inspections and we have to give it a total annual every year around this time so we have a mechanic coming in specifically for that today on the TACA airline flight at four-forty five. So, just a coincidence the airplane would have been down anyway from today until approximately the first.”

And as far as the patient’s wellbeing, Burkes says the accident caused no delay to his treatment since an ambulance was already awaiting his arrival at the airstrip.

Yvette Burkes
“I can say that the patient was fairly stable and we were moving the patient to Karl Heusner.”

Marion Ali
“The accident, has it caused any further injuries or anything to the patient?”

Yvette Burkes
“To the best of our knowledge, no, at least at the preliminary report that I received before rushing out here to the airstrip from the personnel onboard the land ambulance and who took him off the plane.”

Although no one was injured, the incident did cause a scare and the closure of the runway created some inconvenience for passengers waiting to get to their destinations.

Passenger 1, Delayed by Mishap
“I have a son who’s a pilot so when you see something like that it always makes you feel a little nervous and thankful that nobody’s hurt. We’ll be an hour and a half late to meet our connection and we’ve had to call our hotel and they’ve had to cancel our connector and I’m sure it’s an inconvenience to the hotel as well.”

Passenger 2, Delayed by Mishap
“It’s been a long wait and I did want to add that I’m grateful nobody got hurt. I had a little surgery this morning and I just wanted to get home.”

Around one this afternoon, the plane was pushed under the BERT hangar and the runway was once again open to aircraft traffic. Reporting for News Five I’m Marion Ali.

While BERT’s aircraft is under inspection, it will seek the assistance of other local companies to airlift patients to their treatment sites. The organisation has been conducting ambulatory flights since 1983.

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