Plane Took A Dive, Acting PM Survived
The news whipped across Belize at around 9:00 this morning when word went out that a Tropic Air plane had gone down and the Acting Prime Minister Patrick Faber was on board.
It seemed unbelievable at first, but it did happen. Very luckily, no one was hurt. Deputy PM Faber - along with his Cabinet colleague Godwin Hulse and five other passengers were rescued in the waters just off the Placencia coast near the airstrip.
The amazing part is that not only was Faber unhurt, neither was his phone! The Deputy was good enough to snap a few selfies of his strange and surprising plunge.
Daniel Ortiz reports from Placencia that the plane had a most unfortunate, but not unforeseeable mishap: it clipped the top of a passing vehicle at the Placencia Airstrip:
Daniel Ortiz reporting
When a plane takes off from the Placencia Airstrip, these 2 barriers are supposed to go down, and all road traffic is to stop and give way for the plane to take off.
But, this morning, that's not what happened - far from it in fact: a Subaru SUV passed the barrier and came right into the path of an ascending Tropic Air Cessna Caravan. The plane clipped the passenger side of the SUV.
At this time, it is unclear which safety procedures failed and caused the plane to make a forced landing in the sea.
Experienced persons tell us that whenever these planes are loaded, it takes longer for the aircraft to take off. It used up the entire runway, and hit the passing vehicle, veering off course.
A press release from Tropic Air says, quote, "The subsequent loss of airspeed resulted in the pilot conducting a forced landing in the water beyond the end of the runway." End quote.
There were 7 passengers in the aircraft, including Acting Prime Minister Patrick Faber; Minister Godwin Hulse; Christy Mastry; the General Manager of Belize Infrastructure Limited, and several members of the conservation community. They experienced that terrifying crash landing, and were dumped into the sea in front of the Placencia peninsula.
These 4 employees of the Placencia Branch of the Belize Water Services saw the entire accident unfold, and they immediately jumped into action to render aid.
Brandon Torres - First Responder
"From we got there, the barrier on our side went down. So, we stopped. We automatically know that a plane is landing or taking off. So, we stopped, and we watched on the other side; the barrier is still up. So, we said, well, how could that be? But, the vehicle is still coming, so we said, well, this is going to be a close call. Well, the driver continued, and I guess by the time he saw it, I guess he thought he could beat it, but it was right there. It was too late, it hit on the passenger side, and instantly, the vehicle came to a stop."
Donald Sutherland - First Responder
"The plane's wheel hit the vehicle, and from the time I saw it hit, I saw that it started to wobble."
"I guess the pilot was trying to bring it back up, and then it just went and went that way. And - in the water. I thought it was gonna maybe blow up or something."
Stefan Andrews - First Responder
"We saw the wheel of the plan slam into the top of the car. All of us just jumped out of our ride and tried to help who was in the car."
"Me, Mr. Sutherland, and all of us tried to take out the gentleman who - well actually, it looked like he was dead to me, because the man's neck looked like it was broken. So, we just tried to take him out of the vehicle, to see what happened, and the man started to move."
"And then, Me and Mr. Arnie White we took off toward the sea, the beach, and we just went into the water, trying to help the people in the water. And when we reached there, a vessel arrived and tried to help same way."
"So, we [went] further on to the plane because we saw everybody standing up on the plane. We decided to go closer, and we thought to ourselves that it's better that we start to swim out there. So, when we swam out there, before we reached out there, a guys from Tropic had a little vessel that we tried to put the guests in."
We were actually standing on the plan to help assist the people to get into the boat from off the plane because the plane was still sinking."
Very fortunately, everyone onboard this flight survived and are safe. Knowing that the crash caused a stir all over Belize, Deputy Prime Minister posted these pictures on his Facebook page. He also commented, quote, "I'm safe guys... all passengers of the tropic flight survived after crashing into the sea ...Rescued at sea off the shore of Placencia."
"God is with us and with the people. Everybody survived, minor injuries, and I'm so thankful for my co-workers both of them. He's a licensed tour guide, and he's taking his classes right now to be a tour guide. So, these are trained swimmers. They know about CPR, everything. So, they went into action and helped save those people's lives, Minister's lives, the pilot's lives."
"I would never like to see anything happen like that, you know. Because it can be that all those people in the plane could have died. Even from the driver of the vehicle that hit the plane could have died. But the Almighty works. Nobody is more powerful than the almighty."
So, what happened to cause this dangerous accident, and who's responsible?
"From experience, I know it would have happened someday because I used to work at the airstrip, Me and Arnie White used to work at the airstrip, and we have that experience of seeing these planes taking off with a full load, luggage passengers, and have to eat up that entire runway. So, at that time it was even worse because the barriers weren't installed as yet. It got installed now, but the workers from the airstrip, at Tropic Air, they said that they've been having malfunctions with barriers. So, they said that the put in the request to have it fixed, and I guess they didn't fix it, and they said that it was for days. They came out there running and complaining. So, obviously it's Aviation's fault, and it's also the fault of the driver. The driver should have seen the plane taking off, because even if the barrier is still up and you're a driver, and you already know. You see all these signs coming around the airstrip, you'd have to take precautions."
Despite numerous attempts, we could not reach Faber or Hulse for comment today.
Tropic Air President: It Won’t Happen Again
Government issued a statement saying, quote, "Upon takeoff from the Placencia Airstrip, the left landing wheel made contact with a passing vehicle that had managed to bypass one of the lowered barriers." End quote.
Tropic Air's release says, quote, "Tropic Air in coordination with the Belize Airports Authority and the Belize Department of Civil Aviation are looking at how this vehicle passed in front of the departing aircraft and what measures need to be implemented immediately to prevent another such occurrence."
That's what we spoke to Tropic Air President John Greif about today via telephone from San Pedro:...
John Greif, President - Tropic Air
"The driver went past the warnings, and apparently past cars that were parked waiting for us to depart, so...we really don't know what we could have done differently."
Jules Vasquez, reporter
"What would you say about the skill of the pilot?"
"Well somebody said he's the Sully of Belize. Because it took an incredibly skillful pilot to, have practically no time, being only feet above the water to make a safe landing."
Jules Vasquez, reporter
"How do we prevent a recurrence?"
"Well, Jules, that's really where we need to dig deeper. We had thought that there were enough safety barriers in place to prevent this from happening. But obviously, we were wrong, so, I think as a community the aviation community has to, take a hard look at this."
Jules Vasquez, reporter
"Let's speak about the, the barrier itself. Was it assuredly working at the time of this morning's accident?"
"I've gotten both reports, Jules. There are two of em: one of them is on the north side, and one on the south side of the runway. And I've gotten some reports that only the south one went down, but then I've also got reports that they both went down, so...I really, can't comment on that."
Jules Vasquez, reporter
"Does Tropic Air need to exercise more vigilance in terms of assigning a staffer, to actually be there with a manual direction, or stopping of traffic in the event that the barriers aren't working reliably?"
"But if there were no barriers at all, there are plenty of signs warning of low flying aircraft and don't traverse this point without checking to see if the runaway is clear. And as I said it is my understanding that there were other drivers that were stopped and waiting for us to depart."
Jules Vasquez, reporter
"Is there any thought on perhaps moving the switch. I know the switch is not remote and you actually have to go into a box to open it and the box is a little ways off. We always have to factor in the human element, that sometimes people are lazy and just say "man, it's alright.""
"Yep, that would certainly be a solution. To put the switch on the barrier itself and then if the barrier doesn't go down, the operator stays there and physically blocks the traffic."
Jules Vasquez, reporter
"And are you certain that that did not happen in this case? Insofar as, maybe it was just a neglect of responsibility and just saying, man, "it will be ok," and then, the unexpected occurs."
"Knowing that staff there, Jules, that staff is one of our groups of stars, so I doubt that would have been the case, but like I said, I've gotten conflicting reports and having not seen it or there being no video available I really couldn't say."
Jules Vasquez, reporter
"What sort of emotional rollercoaster did you go through this morning?"
"It's a real emotional rollercoaster. Because the first thing you think of is anybody hurt, are there any fatalities? Are there any injuries? And then an incredible surge of relief when you find out that not only were there no fatalities, but there were no serious injuries. So, it's a real emotional rollercoaster."
Greif says that all the passengers were assessed to be "ok", and a few of the passengers wanted to see Doctors in Belize which the airline facilitated.
We could not get comment from the Civil Aviation Department.
Tropic Air Plane, with Ministers and Others Inside, Sinks after Clipping Vehicle at Airstrip
A Tropic Air flight carrying Acting Prime Minister Patrick Faber and Immigration Minister Godwin Hulse plunged into the Caribbean Sea in Placencia shortly before nine o’clock this morning. Reports are that upon taking off from the Placencia Airstrip, the left landing wheel made contact with a passing vehicle that had managed to bypass the barriers. The impact caused the aircraft to nose dive into the nearby water in front of the airstrip. While all passengers on board the plane and inside the vehicle were rescued, an investigation is ongoing to determine who is responsible for the incident and what additional safety measures, if necessary, needs to be put in place. News Five’s Duane Moody reports.
Duane Moody, Reporting
Just before nine this morning, as a Tropic Air plane en route to Punta Gorda took off from the Placencia airstrip, one of the wheels crashed into a Subaru SUV that crossed in its path. On board at the time of the incident were eleven persons, including the pilot and Acting Prime Minister Patrick Faber and Immigration Minister Godwin Hulse, who were on their way to the official launch of the PG Multipurpose Complex. The aircraft crash landed in the nearby sea, several hundred feet from the shoreline. The plane quickly submerged with only the tip of its tail exposed. A Belize Water Service crew witnessed the frightening ordeal and immediately ran to the rescue of the vehicle’s occupants first.
Arnie Whyte, Water Works Technician
“We respond and jump out of the vehicle and just run to see what was going on. With that we stopped and helped the passenger on the passenger side to get out of the vehicle cause the whole side was mashed in and he was also bleeding and it looked like he was dead; like ih neck bruk or something. So wit that we helped him out and then me and Mister Andrews went towards the beach.”
As the BWS technicians pulled the men from the vehicle with the assistance of other residents and responders, they turned their attention to the plane and its passengers. Without hesitation, they plunged into the sea and swam to the crash site to rescue those in the water; shortly after they were joined by boats and a nearby tour guide.
“Instead of taking pictures, we end up swimming out there to assist the passengers on the plane and assist them with getting out of the plane.”
“So when you reach to the beach, tell me what you guys saw.”
Stephon Andrews, Field Worker
“When we reach the beach, we saw that there was people on top of the plane trying to reach to safety. So we decided to go in closer and that’s when Mister Arnie Whyte told me if I wanted to swim and I said let’s go. We went so close; there was gas in the water and we decided to continue and when we reach there, there were so many people; some were already trying to swim in already. And that’s when me and Mister Arnie Whyte reached by the boat, there were so many people on top of the boat and we decided to wait cause there were some people from Tropic Air coming to assist the people with a smaller vessel, no engine. Not everyone got into the boat; at least….”
“…at least four passengers got into the boat.”
“This boat, I understand that it was actually a tour that was going out, saw what happened and they diverted…”
“When they came, we only had four passengers in the small vessel that they took out to assist the people with. With that then a vessel was going to take a tour out and instead of going out, he came to assist. Upon coming to assist, he said he could take the passengers, but not everybody. But who were on the plane we tried to get them to safety.”
Police and EMTs also responded to the scene; several persons including the pilot and the front seat passenger in the vehicle were injured in the accident.
“He was in total shock; the driver couldn’t even move. All he did was just sit still and just tremble. He couldn’t even react to anybody talking to him or anything. He was so shock that he couldn’t even move. So instead we tried to assist the person that couldn’t help himself to come out. So we opened the door and assist him in getting out of the vehicle.”
“There was this one man complaining about his rib; he hurt his rib. And there was one of the pilot who was bleeding on the forehead.”
In the aftermath, Acting PM Faber posted that he was okay and that everyone was safe. But what led to the collision is being investigated by representatives from Civil Aviation and the Belize Airports Authority. It is known that the location of the runway has always been dangerously close to the Placencia Road. Low-lying barriers are in place to control the flow of traffic during the landing and takeoff of airplanes. Here’s what eyewitness Arnie Whyte says he and his team observed and who it is believed was responsible for the mishap.
“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. I worked at Tropic Air for eight years before I resign and come dah WASA. Before even they mi have gate, we does have to deal with that situation—di try stop traffic and thing because of the plane. Then dehn put in bumps; after bumps, we still deos have to try stop the traffic. From deh, dehn get the gates and whatsoever, but from my time deh I see plane wheel roll top ah vehicle and all that. But I neva see something happen like what happened today.”