Plane crash claims three lives

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 15, No. 46            November 24, 2005

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The wrecked plane was found just three miles from its destination

Luis Rene Tam

Douglas and Christy Dye-Scratchley

It was just another routine flight for seasoned pilot 35-year-old Luis Rene Tam. However what went wrong is still unknown as of press time. What is certain is that the private plane never made it to its intended destination of Blancaneaux Lodge in the Cayo District in Western Belize.

   The twin-engine Islander left the Phillip Goldson International Airport at 10:00 a.m. on Friday morning with two passengers, newlyweds Douglas and Christy Dye-Scratchley, en-route to the acclaimed resort owned by movie director Francis Ford Coppola. The aircraft was scheduled to arrive 35 minutes later and when it did not arrive, resort employees began to get worried.

   At approximately 12:50 p.m., Civil Aviation authorities were contacted about the missing flight and immediately the air traffic unit began the search and rescue. It wasn’t until the following day on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. that the wreckage was located on the property of Hidden Valley Inn, three miles from Blancaneaux Lodge. Unfortunately, all three passengers on the flight had perished.

   At a press conference held at the Phillip Goldson International Airport, The San Pedro Sun learned that Tam’s last radio contact was made at 10:16 a.m. near La Democracia. “[The aircraft was] climbing to 2,500 feet. From that point, the aircraft is transferred to a frequency that is called the common broadcast frequency. In this particular frequency, the pilots will transmit their position so that other pilots may know the intention of this particular pilot and his position. […] The exact time when it went down, we cannot determine. We understand that people heard the aircraft circling very low over a village close to Unitedville and also the persons that were in the resort also heard the aircraft flying very low.”

   Authorities are investigating what was the exact cause of the accident and the first thing that they are looking into is weather conditions and how it might have affected the flight. Francis Lizama who heads Flight Operations stated, during the press conference, that at times pilots have to make very difficult decisions when faced with unfavorable conditions. “Sometimes in those conditions, visibility is very, very poor. You sometimes lose land mass, land area, and most of the time pilots who penetrate the area get into that location or simply return back to their normal base that they came from.”

   Civil Authorities stated that their investigation could take anywhere from weeks to months to reach completion. Throughout the investigation, all aspects will be considered – weather, mechanical and even pilot error.

   Tam was known as a great pilot with over 9,000 hours of flying experience. He had worked as chief pilot for Maya Island Air until March when he left the company and began flying for Blancaneaux Lodge. Tam obtained his license from the Federal Aviation Authority in the United States of America in 1991. A post mortem examination on his body was conducted on Wednesday. As for the couple that was on the plane with Tam, post mortem examinations revealed that 32-year-old Christy died instantly of multiple injuries. Her husband 36-year-old Doug did not display any major internal injuries but instead bled to death due to a deep laceration in his right leg. The couple married on November 12th and were enjoying their honeymoon at a resort on Ambergris Caye. The newlyweds had decided to visit Blancaneaux Lodge for an overnight and then return to “La Isla Bonita” to complete their vacation.

   Residents of San Pedro Town are still in shock and disbelief at Tam’s passing away. He was known as a talented basketball player in the 80’s and early 90’s, a great pilot, but most of all a wonderful person. Below are a few quotes from people who knew Tam and will miss him greatly:

   John Grief Sr. – Founder/President of Tropic Air - “I remember Tam as a great guy. I remember an incident when we had just met and he was asked to say something bad about me, which he didn’t. When I asked him why, he stated, “Because the world is round!” That is how I remember him – always doing what’s right and being an all around great guy.”

   Gach Guerrero – Regional Manager, San Pedro Branch, Maya Island Air – “He was an easy going person; always willing to help others.”

   Fernando Trejo Sr. – “He was a very good friend, and a very caring person. Tam was so friendly that I don’t believe he had any enemies.”

   During an interview with Jacqueline Tam, widow, a service will be held at Maya Island Air’s office in Belize City at 10:00 a.m. The family is asking for monetary donations which will be used to build a monument of Tam at the Municipal Airport. Donations can be made at Alliance Bank account number 500-948. Tam’s ashes will be dispersed at sea.
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