Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Agriculture survive plane crash Print E-mail
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Written by Administrator   
Thursday, 23 November 2017 00:00

It caused a stir all over Belize on Friday, November 17, when news went out that a Tropic Air plane, carrying Acting Prime Minister, Hon. Patrick Faber and Agriculture Minister, Hon. Godwin Hulse, went down. Fortunately, the two Government leaders and the other 7 occupants on the plane survived a crash landing in the sea off the Placencia Peninsula.

Deputy Prime Minister Patrick Faber told the press that he, Hulse and Christy Mastry, the General Manager of the Belize Infrastructure Limited, were all on the same flight heading to Punta Gorda Town. Their intention was to participate in the official opening ceremony of the new PG multi-purpose sporting complex.

So, they left on a flight from Belize City, which makes stops in several different locations on the way to PG. DPM Faber recounted that the plane landed in Dangriga without incident, and the passengers were dropped off. They then took off and left for Placencia, where they landed, again without incident.

At around 8:45 a.m., while the flight was attempting to leave the Placencia municipal airstrip to fly to PG, is when the very unfortunate accident happened. The plane attempted to take off, as was the routine, but just as it reached the end of the runway, a Subaru SUV ran into its path. That should not have happened, and readers who have visited the Placencia Airstrip know that it has many signs. All these signs warn that incoming and outgoing road traffic to Placencia are expected to be careful and give way whenever planes are landing and taking off. The main road into the village curves right around the end of the runway. Eyewitnesses tell the press that the 2 barriers, which are to go down whenever planes are using the runway, were malfunctioning. One of the two barriers reportedly went down, and the one which reportedly failed allowed the Subaru SUV to pass. The Department of Civil Aviation is investigating, and they told the press that they could not confirm that the barrier malfunctioned at this inopportune time.

Minister Godwin Hulse told the press that he saw the vehicle approaching the ascending plane.

Hulse said, “I looked through the window and I saw the vehicle, but I could not imagine that that vehicle would not stop. I did see the vehicle going, but I didn’t pay it any attention. So when I heard this huge bang, I could not imagine that it was something we hit and then immediately I knew we would have landed in the sea, because whether that was a hole blown in the bottom or something, we were not in any position to land back on land.”

Remembering the moment of impact, Deputy Prime Minister Faber said, “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.”

A press release from Tropic Air said, “Tropic Air has confirmed that one of our aircraft clipped a vehicle that crossed the end of the runway as it was taking off from the Placencia airstrip… The subsequent loss of airspeed resulted in the pilot conducting a forced landing in the water beyond the end of the runway. All 7 passengers and crew members are safe.”

Both ministers commended the pilot, Heston Wagner, for the quick thinking and reaction, and his skill to land the plane and to navigate a dangerous situation that could have turned deadly. Of course, the safe water landing is one aspect, and the rescue effort to get the passengers to dry land is another. DPM Faber told the press that as a non-swimmer he was very concerned about the length of time he and the other passengers had to wait for help. They had to take refuge on the wings of the sinking Tropic Air plane.

Describing how that went, Minister Hulse said, “We were probably were in about 18 feet of water thereabout and when the help came, but this couldn’t carry anybody. But just when that was happening a boat was passing and so the boat pulled up and we got onboard the boat and that took us then to shore.”

That is a similar account from Faber who said that a fiber glass boat was sent out by T                        ropic to rescue them, but it was taking on water, and not everyone could get on it. A tourist boat just so happened to be passing at the same time, and the driver of that vessel rescued them.

It is uncertain who is at fault for the accident, and the authorities are investigating it to ensure that there is no re-occurrence of something like this.

Tropic Air’s press release asserts, “It is important to note that this incident was in no way a reflection of Tropic Air’s operational, maintenance or business practices.”

Apart from political opportunists, there was an outpouring of concern for the leaders and their safety, following the water landing.