By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Senior Reporter
TWO Bahamian pilots who died in a fiery plane crash in Abaco on Monday were not qualified to fly the jet, perplexing investigators who have since opened a stolen aircraft inquiry into the matter.
Investigators are trying to piece together the suspicious circumstances that prompted the former Royal Bahamas Defence Force marines to fly the plane.
Captain Delvin Major, chief investigator of the Air Accident Investigation Authority, said yesterday that Jason Allen was a student pilot and that while Lavan Paul had an airline transport licence, he did not have a type rating to fly the aircraft. Pilots of such planes require a type rating certification, which involves additional training beyond their initial instruction.
In a statement yesterday, police also said officers of the Marsh Harbour Police Station on Tuesday received a report that the plane was stolen from the Treasure Cay Airport.
“Initially,” police said in a statement, “the plane was reported arriving in Treasure Cay, Abaco on Friday, July 2, 2021 and was scheduled to depart on Monday, 5 July 2021 when the airplane was said to be stolen. Further, police along with agencies are investigating an apparent plane crash in Treasure Cay, Abaco, where two pilots lost their lives. The airplane is estimated at $300,000.”
The Tribune understands two foreign pilots who flew the plane into Treasure Cay from the Dominican Republic on Friday filed the stolen plane report on Tuesday. Immigration officers had taken the men into custody but subsequently released them. Why they were detained has not been explained. Yesterday, a senior police officer said he was informed the two men have already left the country.
It is not clear when Allen and Paul arrived in Treasure Cay or why they sought out the Westwind jet. However, sources in Treasure Cay said the pair went through the normal procedures to board the jet, including presenting a required document to customs officials.
The jet crashed shortly after 3.30pm on Monday. According to eyewitnesses, the aircraft appeared to not be making enough power and seemed to struggle to get off the ground.
“The aircraft used the entire runway and ended in bushes approximately 2,000 feet beyond the end of the usable runway after hitting several trees along the debris path,” Captain Major said earlier this week.
Yesterday, he said air accident investigators have ended their investigation into the matter in view of the stolen aircraft report.
“Our investigation only covers the matter from an investigation aspect,” he said. “When there is an unlawful interference, we immediately have to turn it over to the authorities for them to investigate. We take a supporting role, helping them with technical aspects they would need. Our investigation only covers what we were able to determine from the point we were told the plane was stolen because now it’s no longer a safety matter. The crash may have happened as a result of a crime so this is no longer our investigation.”
Nonetheless, Captain Major said even if their investigation was not halted, his team would have little more to do after realising the pilots were not qualified.
“If you’re not qualified to fly an airplane, usually the investigation stops at that point when we determine that you should not have been there,” he said. “At that point, how can we know the engine failed? You could’ve done something that you should not have done or you could have done, but didn’t. There is no reason to go further down that road because everything we find could be because of pilot error.
“Having an airline transport licence is like being a general practitioner. If you want to then be a heart surgeon, you have to do additional training.
“This aircraft, you must have a type rating. If you don’t have a type rating you are not considered qualified and you should not be in that aircraft. Legally, you cannot jump in and fly that plane. You should go through the training to be type-rated, which involves certain amount of hours and certain amount of practical training,” he said.
“If the investigation continued, we would have examined his training and saw if he started the process but we have no way of knowing that now.
“I see this kind of thing all the time. It just saddens me that pilots would make themselves vulnerable to getting behind the wheel of an aircraft that they are not comfortable with.”
The two pilots who flew the plane into Treasure Cay told police they never authorised Allen and Paul to take the plane. Police are consequently trying to understand how the Bahamian men gained access to the aircraft.
“That’s the million-dollar question that the police is trying to figure out,” Captain Major said. “As far as we’re concerned, we have no idea how they got in. Police will have to find out how these guys had access to this aircraft. It’s not for us to comment on because it’s outside of our purview.”
The episode has left Treasure Cay residents perplexed.
“First of all, what are you coming here for from the Dominican Republic?” one resident asked yesterday. “Why are you here? There is nothing in Treasure Cay. Furthermore, you have to have access to the plane to fly it, a key or something. This story doesn’t add up and everybody has the sense that the pilots didn’t know what they were doing in trying to fly the plane and this goes deeper than them stealing it.”