By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
WHILE search and rescue efforts have ceased for those who died in last week’s Andros plane crash, search and recovery for parts of the downed Piper Aztec plane are continuing as authorities expand their search area in the hope of finding the parts that could help investigators determine what caused the crash.
Delvin Major, chief investigator of air accidents, said the most critical component of the plane that could assist investigators is its engine – such small planes do not have a flight data recorder or “black box”.
“We want to find those engines,” Mr Major told The Tribune yesterday, two days after officials said all six people on board the plane had died and search and rescue efforts had been called off.
“The wing and stuff wouldn’t give much clues into what happened because they would be so badly damaged, but engines can be analysed to see if any failure contributed to the plane crash. We’re still hopeful that we can find more of the parts because we would want to rule out everything; one thing is whether mechanical failure played a part in the crash. Based on winds and currents, parts could’ve drifted further north or south. I was told by police in Andros they have broadened their search south of where the accident happened to see if any parts drifted in the areas.”
Local police in Andros are spearheading search for parts of the plane, though it’s unclear how many people are involved in the efforts and how long those activities will continue.
“If they find something, they may keep looking, but it won’t be forever,” Mr Major said. “They’d also be looking to see if any bodies have floated. They really want to provide some closure to the family.”
Starting today, Mr Major and his team will begin the process of determining whether the plane and its pilot, Darren Clarke, satisfied all the legal requirements when operating an aircraft and whether all necessary licences were obtained. These include a pilot’s certificate, a certificate of airworthiness for the aircraft, an airman’s certificate which includes proof of physical fitness and a certificate of release to service. The investigators will also analyse an official report from the Department of Meteorology on the weather at the time of the crash. Witnesses, like other pilots, who could speak about the weather conditions on Wednesday morning also will be interviewed.
“We have received quite a bit of documents from authorities, both here in Nassau and (the US) Federal Aviation Authority in regards to the pilot and the aircraft,” Mr Major said. “I haven’t reviewed those as yet. They are quite a bit of documents as regards to the pilot, the aircraft and the certifications. We will speak to witnesses who were there at the time as to the conditions of the weather. Was weather a factor in the crash? Then we will check that against the pilot’s qualifications to see if he was capable of flying in that kind of environment.
“We’ll speak to other pilots in the area to get a feel of what they thought about the impact the weather could have had. The Department of Meteorology’s report will give us the clearest picture of the weather. I haven’t opened the report yet. It’s an official report with a lot of additional information you would not find in a regular advisory. It is specifically for aviation purposes. So the aircraft, the pilot and the weather, those are the major components we’ll look at to determine how each of those played a role in the crash.”
Last week’s crash was the first fatal one in the Bahamas in one and a half years. However, a number of non-fatal crashes have taken place over the years, including several recently. Mr Major said he is in the process of investigating “three non-fatal crashes” since the start of 2018.
Darren Clarke, Margaret Adderley, Valentino Cardinal Knowles, Carter Campbell, Desiree Russell and ten-year-old Destinique Wilson were the victims of last week’s crash. This week, a vigil on Wednesday night and a memorial on Friday are expected to take place for them.
In the statement Friday, accident investigators detailed their efforts in the wake of the crash.
“On 17 January 2018 the Air Accident Investigation Department (AAID) was notified by Nassau Air Traffic Control that an aircraft N62769, a Piper Aztec, six seater aircraft went missing around 8am while en route to the Lynden Pindling International Airport from San Andros Airport,” the statement said.
“Search and rescue assets with assistance from the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, the United States Coast Guard and BASRA, as well as other aircraft from Nassau and local boaters in Andros, participated in the search for the missing aircraft and its occupants. “Around 5pm, the AAID was notified that a debris field was located where the aircraft crashed. Due to nightfall, search and rescue efforts had to be suspended and commenced around 7am Thursday January 18. On Thursday 18 January, investigators from the AAID with assistance from the Bahamas Civil Aviation Authority, Safety Oversight Department travelled to Andros island to commence the investigation.
“Around 10am (Thursday), the investigation team was notified that the debris field was located and what remained of the aircraft was retrieved and brought to the island. As the complete aircraft could not be located and retrieved, no further analysis could be conducted on the aircraft. Subsequently, the search and rescue efforts (were) officially terminated. The pilot and five passengers on board perished in the accident which occurred in waters approximately four miles southeast of Mastic Point settlement.”