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Crash Pilot Had No Commercial Licence

Photos from social media reportedly showing wreckage from the plane in Andros.

Photos from social media reportedly showing wreckage from the plane in Andros.

photo

Darren Clarke

By RASHAD ROLLE 

Tribune Staff Reporter

rrolle@tribunemedia.net

THE pilot of the Piper Aztec plane that crashed, killing himself and five other people off Andros last week, did not have a commercial pilot’s licence and was hoping to get one after returning to flight school in a matter of weeks, according to his sister, Shantell Miller.

Darren Clarke, 45, hoped to work someday for Western Air on his return from flight school, having spent at least “five years” flying in the Bahamas on his private licence, Ms Miller, a nurse, said. His piloting activity was his only source of income. A former boat captain, he left Stuart’s Cove several years ago to be a full-time pilot.

Delvin Major, head of the Air Accident Investigation Department of the Department of Civil Aviation, yesterday confirmed Clarke’s lack of a commercial pilot’s licence. He said such licences are necessary to charge people for a flight. The Civil Aviation Authority regulates such matters. 

Mr Major also revealed that Clarke was certified to operate only a single engine aircraft, not a multi-engine one. A multi-engine instrument rating is required for flight charter work around the world.

For her part, Ms Miller, 35, said her brother leased his Piper Aztec plane from a businessman, a man who she said called the family after last week’s crash and assured them the plane was properly maintained and insured. Mr Major confirmed the plane was insured yesterday, adding he expects to receive maintenance records for the aircraft today. 

Ms Miller described her brother in glowing terms, calling him protective, responsible and a stickler for rules. However, his lack of a commercial licence is likely to be seen as critical amid discourse about enforcing civil aviation regulations and laws.

“The licence that he has is for private,” Ms Miller said yesterday. “You know he flew a private airline, he wasn’t flying commercial, so he wanted to fly commercial also so I think it’s something else he needed in order to get certification for that because he couldn’t jump into that.”

The licence that he has I don’t think would’ve been sufficient for commercial so he was going back to school to get whatever he needed to do that.”

Nonetheless, Mr Clarke flew people throughout the Bahamas, typically from Andros to Nassau, Freeport or Exuma, Ms Miller said. Across the world, private licences are allowed for noncommercial purposes only, while commercial licences are needed for pilots to reap financial rewards.

According to the country’s Civil Aviation (Safety) Regulations, a Bahamian operator of an aircraft cannot fly for commercial purposes without having an Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC). The process of obtaining such a certificate is rigorous and is not given if the head pilot does not meet certain requirements, including having a commercial licence certificate.

Sky Bahamas CEO and President Randy Butler has said at least 28 planes operate unlawful charters each day in the Bahamas, a longtime problem, he said, that has plagued the industry. 

Passengers aboard the ill-fated plane included 10-year-old Destinique Wilson, her mother Desiree Russell, Margaret Adderley, Valentino Cardinal Knowles and Carter Campbell.

“He just was going back to school because he wanted to fly with Western Air,” Ms Miller said. “Sometime maybe next month or so he was getting ready to go back to school, so he was getting prepared because he just bought some pilot shirts and stuff, he said he wanted to change up the uniform for when he came back, hoping he’ll be going into that uniform for the commercial flights. He never got to wear them, but I think in about five weeks he was coming back to go back to flight school.”

Fears

Ms Miller and her family are no strangers to tragedy. In September, they buried another brother, Rian “Manny” Emmanuel Miller, 36, who was left paralysed after a motorbike accident in 2014 and succumbed to complications from the paralysis last year.

Ms Miller said she was particularly wary of her older brother’s fondness for flying, frequently expressing her fears to him and her desire that he find another career. Her brother grew up in Andros and obtained pilot certifications from various schools, she said, including Southeastern School of Aeronautics in Georgia, US and Pelican Flight Training school in Florida––all within the last decade and a half. Even before he started flight school he bought flying books and studied its material, she said.  

“Every day he would walk in the house after he reach home from the airport and I would be like ‘I don’t like you flying,’” she said. “Just the fact that they up there, anything can happen. ‘I’d feel better to know you are at Stuart’s Cove, even though you on the sea, better to know you there than in the air because I don’t want to get a call tomorrow to know you in a crash or something’ and he was like ‘Shannie, my passion is flying, that is something I want to do for life.’ He never, ever had a real fear of flying. Every day I would be in a conversation with him about it. He said ‘if I have to die today or tomorrow in a plane, that’s how God would have me go, but I won’t stop flying just because you fear I will die in a plane crash, because if I die that way that’s how God would want it to be.’”

Ms Miller said she is not necessarily interested in the conclusion of the work investigators are doing on the crash, especially if it means finding out about her brother’s remains.

“Based on the islanders on the scene, a lot of people saw when they brought parts and stuff up from water, and it wasn’t the whole bodies,” she said. “A lot of people saw when they were putting whatever they found in the body bags. They weren’t whole bodies. Everything was basically cut up. What we were told is they found legs, hands, torsos, heads. Up to this day, they can’t tell us if any parts were of my brother.”

“Everyone deals with this stuff differently,” she said. “Me personally, I wouldn’t care if they say they couldn’t find anything from him. It’ll have me move on a little easy and better because at least I wouldn’t have to see a leg or torso or head of him because whatever remains, we still would have to deal with it in terms of cremation. That they don’t find them, I’d feel good in a way.”

Weeks before he died, Clarke attended a family reunion, an experience Ms Miller cited as her happiest memory of him. In a rare move, Clarke, who didn’t drink alcohol, consumed a Kalik radler, but only after putting the drink in a tea cup to disguise it. Despite his efforts, his eyes turned red, amusing his family who had come together to emphasise their unity outside the confines of a funeral. Clarke was a symbol of sobriety, Ms Miller said, and he had spent most of his life abstaining from partying, drinking, drugs and other excesses. 

Even before his brother Rian died, Clarke played a key role taking care of his four children, Ms Miller said. He never had children himself, Ms Miller said. “My brother that passed previously, his kids, the day before the flight coming back from Andros, I spoke to him, he would make sure buy school stuff and stuff for lunch. He called and told me he’d bring some supplies on his way up.”

Ms Miller said Clarke was the key caretaker for the children.  

Comments

proudloudandfnm 3 years, 1 month ago

Time to stop this nonsense now. Authorites know exactly who these hackers are. Lock them up. Take their planes. Stop this incredibly ignorant practice NOW!!

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ohdrap4 3 years, 1 month ago

That is not going to happen.

These stories will always be presented as the poor struggling fella trying to make a living. A saint on earth.

He was doing what he was not qualified to do, and caused many to be killed.

Guess what, the other five who died also had family, struggled to survive and were saints on earth.

The government ought to do better.

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Well_mudda_take_sic 3 years, 1 month ago

When it comes to the complete lack of law enforcement, there's very little difference between unqualified and uninsured air taxi hackers and unqualified and uninsured ground taxi hackers. The ultimate beneficial owner of the crashed aircraft, assuming it was not owned by the dead pilot, should be brought up on charges of manslaughter. But this will not happen; in fact, nothing at all will happen.

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sheeprunner12 3 years, 1 month ago

When will the Government deal with the mess at LPIA General Aviation????? How can anyone just show up with a plane load of passengers and just jump on a plane and fly to wherever????? ......... or at any Out Island Airport to come to Nassau?????

Is there NO records kept of these "private flights"???????

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sheeprunner12 3 years, 1 month ago

How can these so-called private pilots be held responsible for "hacking"?????? ........ Can the police demand flight records????......... Or the local Civil Aviation?????? ......... How do you stop a private pilot from loading up a plane in Exuma/Andros/Abaco etc and bring them to Nassau or GB ...... If they pay him in cash and there are no passenger tickets or receipts?????? ......... smh

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DDK 3 years, 1 month ago

If the police in conjunction with the Civil Aviation Department ever actually attempt to apprehend an illegal hacker pilot, the customers historically claim to be family and/or friends catching a free ride with the pilot. If the authorities, perhaps with support from the A.G.'s office, actually bothered to properly police all flights, hacking would have been brought to a halt decades ago. Like most regulations in the Bahamas the laissez-faire attitude towards this dangerous practice continues unabated.............

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OldFort2012 3 years, 1 month ago

I would not worry too much. Darwin is at work here. The stupid will want to save a couple of bucks, fly with unlicensed pilots, die and not pass on their stupid genes. Society benefits overall.

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B_I_D___ 3 years, 1 month ago

Our pirate nation mentality will never change...just another lawless mindset and lack of enforcement. people can get away with murder, as was this case. Still waiting for that epic Jitney bus crash to come with multiple fatalities...it's coming to a street near you. Sadly, for those that perished in the crash of this hacker, the insurance will likely NOT pay a dime.

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John 3 years, 1 month ago

While many may take this opportunity to brow beat the hackers in the industry this fatal crash needs more investigation. The conversation between the pilot and the air traffic controller when he was denied permission to land in Nassau. Why did he go all the way back to Andros instead of waiting in position to land? Was he low on fuel? And the controllers who saw him flying in circles in a blinding rain/ wind storm. Could they have realized he was disorientated and could they have intervened and guided him back to Andros or Nassau safely or does that only happen in the movies? The hacking issue needs to be dealt with while an aircraft is still on the ground or after it has landed safely, not when it becomes lost in flight and there is a tragic accident. especially one with multiple fatalities. And many of the 10 mishaps last year were not hackers. But try going to any major hotel or any port in your private vehicle to get a hacker job. You will have to run and leave your car running too.

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sheeprunner12 3 years, 1 month ago

Just use CID and carry out some sting operations at the airports (randomly) ......... and John, where did you get all of these intimate details from on this "air hacker case"????????

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ohdrap4 3 years, 1 month ago

th punch? bahama press? facebook?

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Required 3 years, 1 month ago

"Clarke, who didn’t drink alcohol, consumed a Kalik radler," which of course IS alcohol. A few weeks later, while illegally engaging in an activity for which this man lacks multiple qualifications and licenses, he kills himself and five others. So he is described as "responsible and a stickler for rules." And the Tribune doesn't question any of these statements. You can't make this ish up.

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sheeprunner12 3 years, 1 month ago

That is classic Bahamian-speak for "don't hold my family relative guilty for that". ........... The "not my good child" response.

Bahamians are just so good at burying their heads in the sand when it comes to taking blame for their actions!!!!!! ............ smh

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truetruebahamian 3 years, 1 month ago

John, you are obviously not a pilot. I am, with over thirty yeatrs of flying experienced. Other than the fact that hackers have been operating with tacit approval of authorities through promises of free rides, slipping some money to those who might report or having some close knit ties with politicians, political party higher ups. We have been trying to halt this ever since I started flying. There are many factors that come into play as possible scenarios for this mishap - one being that in the U,S for single engined aircraft (the only licence that he held) rarely teach stall/spin recovery, which is essential. He only had a single engine licence, Another is that on the Piper Aztec should one engine go out the pilot must be able to feather that side and adjust to flying with a single engine. However, flying on a single engine after losing one on this type of aircraft will not keep a full or overloaded machine in the air. There are trade offs in the design and the pilot must know these limitations and plan accordingly. There are many other factors that might affect the scenario, but these are two most glaring possible factors, and I am sure that thorough and proper investigation will add others into the equation.

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B_I_D___ 3 years, 1 month ago

“The licence that he has is for private,” Ms Miller said yesterday. “You know he flew a private airline, he wasn’t flying commercial, so he wanted to fly commercial also so I think it’s something else he needed in order to get certification for that because he couldn’t jump into that.”

You can't fix stupid...private license...private airline...

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seamphony 3 years, 1 month ago

condolences to all the families who lost loved ones. Please SUE whoever owned this plane and allowed it to be used costing the lives of your family members. Hold him accountable.

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BahamaRed 3 years, 1 month ago

Seeing as the plane was not fully recovered, most crucial being the engines one can not fully determine if the crash was solely the pilots fault. Not negating the fact that he should have been properly licensed, but how does one place sole blame on the pilot without first examining all the evidence.

For all we may know the plane ran out of fuel, it was indicated he attempted to circle around several times before crashing. It was also speculated that he was turned around after having already arrived to Nassau.

Also he might have been caught in wind shear due to the weather, something that no amount of experience can prevent you from encountering (unless the airport has the required equipment that detects wind shear, and Andros doesn't).

Furthermore, even though it is said he wasn't licenced to fly commercially doesn't mean he wasn't qualified. It just indicates he didn't have the necessary documents. How many people know how to drive but don't own a license. Yes, I am aware the rules and regulations require proper licencing, but we don't know what he was capable of.

So tossing blame solely on the pilot is just a blame game because they have no one else to blame. And frankly it's in poor taste because he's not here to defend himself.

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