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Civilian Divers Find Plane Wreckage Just 40 Mins Into Search

Volunteers organised by Gina Knowles took only 40 minutes to find parts of the plane that was being flown by missing pilot Byron Ferguson. Photo: Shawn Hanna/Tribune staff

Volunteers organised by Gina Knowles took only 40 minutes to find parts of the plane that was being flown by missing pilot Byron Ferguson. Photo: Shawn Hanna/Tribune staff

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Volunteer efforts, organised by Gina Knowles, recovered parts of the plane. Photo: Shawn Hanna/Tribune Staff

By MORGAN ADDERLEY

Tribune Staff Reporter

madderley@tribunemedia.net

A CIVILIAN effort to locate the plane of missing pilot Byron Ferguson proved fruitful after a team mobilised by Gina Knowles, co-founder of online support group HeadKnowles, discovered plane debris in the waters off Nirvana Beach yesterday.

Locating an estimated 60-70 pieces of debris, the team made its discovery 40 minutes into the search, 600ft away from the plane’s original location, and 80 feet deep.

The team’s find occurred exactly one week after Mr Ferguson and his plane crashed in the ocean on the night of November 8.

Yesterday, Mr Ferguson’s brother, Dr Ashton Ferguson, thanked the volunteers for their efforts while describing law enforcement officials' search efforts as negligent and incompetent.

Volunteers were able to recover what they believe to be pieces of the plane’s nose, tail, and battery, among dozens of smaller pieces. A document detailing the flight information, suspected to be the flight plan, was also recovered.

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Gina Knowles, co-founder of online support group HeadKnowles.

Afterwards, Mrs Knowles told reporters she felt for Mr Ferguson’s family. After learning her boat’s maintenance repairs had been completed Wednesday night, she mounted an online plea calling on experienced divers to assist in a private search effort.

“My husband (Andrew) is a lifetime fisherman, boating person,” Mrs Knowles told reporters after the group's boat docked at the Harbour Patrol Unit. “Ocean, he knows it… in his mind, he kept saying, ‘I know there’s no way we can’t find pieces of this plane. I don’t understand how it’s not being found.' And so we put out a shout out (and contacted) a couple of our friends.”

Eighteen volunteers participated in yesterday’s search effort, leaving at noon to head to the pin of the plane’s last known location.

“And so, we said we’re going to start from there…they had a plan, they got in buddies,” Mrs Knowles continued. “It was six teams of twos. And it looked like it was in the movies with the marine SEALS.

“It was 40 minutes that the first person went, ‘I see it! I see it!’”

When asked how far down they found the first piece of the plane, Mrs Knowles said: “About 80 feet. And it was 600 feet from the original pin…You could see the beach. I could swim to the beach. That’s how close it is.”

Angelo Robinson, a diver with four years of experience, was one of the first to spot the debris.

“I was actually on the surface snorkeling,” Mr Robinson told reporters. “And once we spotted it, then we signaled for the boat to have the divers come in with tanks and then go down to get a closer look.”

Mr Robinson said the team used “regular dive equipment” that would be used in “recreational" diving.

“Even though it was 70 feet of water you could see straight to the bottom,” he added.

Mr Robinson said he suspects there is “definitely more” debris in the area, but added the divers weren’t “properly equipped today to do any further investigation other than what (they) recovered.”

Both Mrs Knowles and Mr Robinson maintained that it should have been possible for the Royal Bahamas Defence Force to have found the debris.

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Debris from the plane. Photo: Gina and Andrew Knowles

“I would have assumed that marines would be properly suited to any marine rescue or anything of that nature, so I figured they would have been,” Mr Robinson said. “Apparently they were not.”

When asked if it was safe to say that marines didn’t do a sufficient job, Mr Robinson replied: “I agree. Because if we could’ve found what we found only a week later snorkeling at the surface, I feel as if it was some concerted effort from the Defence Force with divers, something more could’ve been done initially at the time of the accident."

“I think that if they did actually search, they would have found it,” Mrs Knowles said. “If divers actually went in the water, I would like to know who it was. Because I want to know if they did indeed go in the water, if they just went in the water and sat down…because, I mean we have enough people on our forces to do the same thing we did.

“We had 12 guys! Twelve awesome guys. And they went and they did - it’s amazing, they went and they filled their scuba tanks. And we all went out saying, ‘we’re going to find this plane!’”

After retrieving the plane’s parts, the team was intercepted by police, with Mrs Knowles maintaining that officers initially dismissed their catamaran as a “party boat." However, after spotting the debris, the officers escorted the vessel to the Harbour Patrol Unit.

Mrs Knowles also told reporters that the team has another plan in place for further search efforts, though she declined to provide specifics. While she maintained that she has been in constant contact with the Ferguson family, she declined to speak for them.

“I cannot speak for them. I know that I would not be settled until I find Byron. That’s how I am. And I explained to Anya (Mr Ferguson’s wife), I will continue to put in my 100 percent full efforts. And anybody else who wants to help, please contact us.”

Two of Mr Ferguson’s brothers and his mother were present on the vessel during the interview.

When asked his response to the way law enforcement officials have handled the search thus far, Dr Ferguson told the Tribune: "Negligence, incompetence."

He thanked the volunteers for their efforts and the public for “the overwhelming support that is being shown for Byron."

“We are not giving up,” he added.

Response to the news on social media ranged from support for the volunteers to sharp critiques of officials.

“Lord, cover me with a veil. Because if I ever need the support of my own government in the time of emergency, surely I would die,” one user posted to Twitter.

Another posted: “I can't believe (the Defence Force) left the plane there. That speaks volumes to Bahamians and makes us wonder where are our taxes going. Not only that, but you wouldn't do all that you could to save a fellow Bahamian?”

Under a photo of the volunteers on Facebook, one user commented: “This is truly amazing! This just shows how strong we are as a people...coming together to support and make things happen.”

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Gina Knowles Facebook video

Comments

John 1 year, 8 months ago

So are the Defense Force marines actually trained (and competent) in sea and rescue? Or they just trained to patrol the harbor and allow Haitians in their wooden sloops to slip right in? Even right netting the Defense Force Base. A few weeks ago when Marvin Dames and the commissioner of police were criticized for allowing US helicopters to come in and disrupt the peace and why of at least 1/3 of the island and then Grand Bahama, one blogger’s response was ‘Y’all always criticizing the US but when there is a tragedy at sea, they is the first one y’all is call?’ So we’re our most friendly neighbor to the West called in on theis matter? Or was it a ‘no big deal we don’t have to call them type attitude from the outset and from the top? There are many questions and questions need answers. Or will it continue to be business as usual.

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cx 1 year, 8 months ago

a coast guard copter did help in the initial search on night of crash

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ThisIsOurs 1 year, 8 months ago

I think we're beating up on them too much. Yes they could have done a better job here, but they're not supermen. Again, Like I said before, said when the sloop landed illegally at the defence force base, they can't do it all. They need help from all the eyes and ears they can get. It just has to be organized properly.

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Clamshell 1 year, 8 months ago

They had help ... they were told exactly where to look. This was not exactly difficult. A couple of amateurs managed to find the wreckage in 40 minutes. Making excuses just enables ineptitude.

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ThisIsOurs 1 year, 8 months ago

I'm not making excuses for them, I am literally saying I don't think they can do it all.

I don't think they can man the border, I don't think they can turn education around, I don't think they can create a tech hub, I don't think they can clean up the place, I don't think they can clean up crime. I don't think they can do any of it. I firmly believe if we're to solve any of these problems,the people with the ideas and the people with the hands on need a system to just get it done.

I've called it the Arawak Cay model in previous comments. Govt didn't come up with Arawak cay, some people had the idea to go out there and sell native goods then govt piggy backed off them. I think that's how we'll move ahead. (And yes Arawak cay needs work, partly because it happened without planning)

So I'm not gonna beat up on them, because I literally don't think they can do it. They need to find a niche that they'll address then the civilian force works together to tackle the rest. Maybe they put a liaison officer with a civilian team. We are the "critical mass" we're looking for.

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DonAnthony 1 year, 8 months ago

You are making excuses... sure you are not a politician? It is absolutely unacceptable that we have a defense force that we spend hundreds of millions on and they can not find what civilian amateurs can find in 40minutes!!!

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ThisIsOurs 1 year, 8 months ago

Nah. Lol I'm not a politician. Far from it. I am also not saying they didn't mess up big time here. I am saying the model doesn't work. Beating up on them won't fix it

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BahamaPundit 1 year, 8 months ago

This may be the line in the sand that reveals the Bahamas has been running a sham Government socialist welfare state since majority rule. Nothing works. Nobody is getting anything accomplished, only stealing, looting, robbing a prior jem of the British empire. This once great nation has been demolished by a den of thieves using their race as a justification for their crimes.

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SP 1 year, 8 months ago

Let's get this perfectly clear. The den of thieves using their race as a justification for their crimes are the handful of white Bahamian greedy hogs that are holding the country hostage!

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ThisIsOurs 1 year, 8 months ago

There's a movie I watched years ago, I thought it was funny at the time, it'd probably be politically incorrect today, it was "The Jerk" starring Steve Martin. It's about a really dumb white guy (like dumb and dumber dumb) who was raised by a poor black family.

When he was going "out into the world", his parents sat him down (they didn't think he would make it) and his father gave him this advice. "dont trust whitey". And he thinks for a minute and says "ok". Then his father adds, "and don't trust blackey"

It was supposed to be stupid advice but on one hand I think it was great advice, don't look at people's skin colour, sex, age, clothes, jewelry, house, car, title, accent, whatever, thieves come in all colours and sizes, and so do Angels.

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DonAnthony 1 year, 8 months ago

We spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year on these ministries: defense, health, education etc. and all we get for it is incompetence and excuses, and predictably horrible results. We really have to admit we are a banana republic for the most part. Then we have ministers making excuses saying it is the best they can do and a prime minister who ducks the press and can not honestly face the Bahamian people and answer the simplest of questions.

We need to downsize government. Privatize EVERYTHING possible. Admit it is a failure and use the resources to pay down debt and free the private sector. But to continue to increase taxes to fund such incompetence is madness.

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TalRussell 1 year, 8 months ago

Nobody likes bragger!
Ma HeadKnowles comrades pulled off fruitful recovery but a single search with quick results doesn't mean you've earned title to BragHeadKnowles..... And, hopefully the downed plane's crash debris have been handled care for quick turn over Aviation authorities. Search rescue operations require lots unsung dedicated volunteers and donated assets and so was case in search for missing plane and pilot.

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DDK 1 year, 8 months ago

What happened Comrade? Need a brownie?

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Clamshell 1 year, 8 months ago

Bullsht, Tal. This group of volunteers accomplished in 40 minutes what our supposed highly-skilled professionals could not accomplish in a week. They found the plane exactly* where the government was told it would be from the start. And your use of the phrase “aviation authorities” is a joke. Those the same “authorities” who allow bandit commuter flights every freakin’ day of the week? Spare me.

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BahamaRed 1 year, 8 months ago

You sound like one of the incompetent idiots that make up our "armed forces".

What it takes is equipment and proper training from the government agencies responsible.

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John 1 year, 8 months ago

Tal Russel go take English classes and get some in common sense too.

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B_I_D___ 1 year, 8 months ago

RBDF is just another government employment agency...all day long they crash boats and damage things.

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OMG 1 year, 8 months ago

Typical, government agencies who cannot provide or carry out their mandate yet critisize others.

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sheeprunner12 1 year, 8 months ago

Marvin Dames and Tellis Bethel owe the Bahamian People an explanation of WHY the RBDF could not find this plane ............ did they not search for the one in Andros???????

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hrysippus 1 year, 8 months ago

Hey Sheepdumber, What about BASRA? Just how much money did you donate to support this volunteer organisation last year? Nothing? I thought so but it is easy to raise insinuations isn't it?

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Greentea 1 year, 8 months ago

....Most people think BASRA is a government organization.

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joeblow 1 year, 8 months ago

Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! No surprise here!

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sheeprunner12 1 year, 8 months ago

Half of the country's lighthouses and beacons are out of order or malfunctioning ......... even with all these RBDF boats and planes ............ SMT

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Clamshell 1 year, 8 months ago

Nothing but gobble-speak and excuses and bureaucratic mumbles for a week, and a gang of volunteers on snorkels and recreational scuba gear find this plane in just 40 minutes, right where the government was told, a week earlier, it would be. The incompetence is astonishing.

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BahamaRed 1 year, 8 months ago

Just goes to show how incompetent our Defense Force is. A bunch of idiots running around in fatigues with not the faintest clue of what needs to be done.

Maybe if they stop allowing MP's who are campaigning for votes to put the random joe on the force, we might have more loyal and dedicated persons actually looking to make this country something to be proud of; instead of the ones looking for a steady paycheque, credit at the bank, and the glory of being on the force.

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sealice 1 year, 8 months ago

This is the biggest crock of sensationalistic bullship i have ever read. First of all NO one at Head Knowles has any real maritime salvage or rescue experience at least not the women commenting.

2ndly Basra was out there a couple hours after the crash and only found debris floating around which they left cus the weather was really shittty and they were looking for what counts bodies and / or signs of life and there was none.

Carl Bethel can go crawl back into his legal black hole he's not handling his own portfolio well enough without trying to tackle more.

How long do you think a body is gonna last in the ocean before marine life starts eating it - I mean i feel for the families loss and that is a real thing but all the commentary and people throwing other peeps under a jitney who clearly by their statements don't know WTF they are talking about.

By all means though please keep picking up the trash in our waters - that's a very real issue for our dumars gubmint too.

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TalRussell 1 year, 8 months ago

Ma comrade DDK, with me right hand over my heart as a veteran brownie baker, I does smacks out salutes anytime fellow comrade speaks appreciative positive me home-backed Brownies.

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TalRussell 1 year, 8 months ago

And, ma comrade DDK, remember, it all in making of the butter!
For me it stickily for medicinal use only to alleviate causes behind me symptoms - so if likewise - you too does be looking brungs relief ya symptoms - go grabs your apron to get baking.... After few bakes, she pretty easy, once you understand what has go into making of the butter. Remember, she all in making butter!

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proudloudandfnm 1 year, 8 months ago

I wonder what percentage of our tax dollars are a complete waste? I'd say somewhere around 98 to 99.99%....

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ThisIsOurs 1 year, 8 months ago

You're off about 0.02%...I wonder if Komalafe would be doing a better job...I'm so jaded right now. They all seem to get dragon gold fever when they get in power

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DDK 1 year, 8 months ago

That's about the size of it. Beginning to seem pretty hopeless...........

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John 1 year, 8 months ago

The biggest blunder and stupidest thing ever was after the Head Knowles team discovered parts of the plane's wreckage and after turning the find over to authorities, the commander of the Defense Force, declared that the crash area was now a secured area and this team of divers could not go back into the area unless they first registered with the Defense Force. There is a saying in fishing that, the boat with all the power (big engines) pass all the fish." Wouldn't it have been so much more graceful, and productive if the commander had shown more appreciation for the Head Knowles effort and invited them to join the Defense Force team on another search? By the Commodore's admission, the crash site entails a vast area and the more hands on deck the better the chances of discovery. They can either find the fuselage with Mr. Ferguson still strapped in, they can find it without a body or they can find remains of Mr. Ferguson and not find the plane or otherwise, they can find nothing at all.

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ThisIsOurs 1 year, 8 months ago

That would have made sense, I guess he's trying to save more embarrassment by preventing them from finding anything else. its the wrong move, achieving the opposite effect. I agree with you, he would have looked so much better if he had thanked them, brought them in fir a meeting and discussed how they'd canvass the area together

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Gabor 1 year, 8 months ago

Pride is a deadly sin for a reason. How dare a bunch of civilians be more effective than my scary looking "professionals"?

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buddah17 1 year, 8 months ago

Hello; My name is William Lee, and I shall state initally that Gina Knowles is my cousin. Why is it that a lot if Bahamians feel the need to put each other down? I feel that the heading of this newspiece is all wrong, ("why did a few civilian divers do what the authorities could not?") That was not the point, OR their mission. It was simply a GROUP OF WELL MEANING BAHAMIANS THAT GOT TOGETHER TO HELP OUT A FAMILY THAT WAS MISSING A LOT OF ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS REGARDING THE TRAGIC FATE OF A LOVED ONE. I might add that some of the people involved with this search also arrange the collection of dontaions to family islands hit by violent hurricanes, AND the planes to take the donations to them, I can say for ABSOLUTLE certainty that they do not act to "shame the RBPF, or BASRA, or whatever group might or should be involved in this search. Yet so much of the comments that I read were written to criticize what this group did.. Gina, I say to you "cuz" and your husband and the volenteers, that I am SO SO proud of you.. I can only wish you all the best, and pray that people like you and your firends and the rest of the family will ALWAYS stay concerned for your fellow Bahamians and help them as and when they are in need. I feel we can all learn something POSITIVE from this...

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happyfly 1 year, 8 months ago

Most of you all are an embarrassment to message boards. We had an unfortunate plane crash that is ultimately 110% the responsibility of the pilot of the airplane. For those of us that know better, the hard-working members of the police force, RBDF, Basra and the US Coast Guard were out there doing the best they could with the resources they have and God help us all if Gina Knowles is going to tell us all how an aviation crash investigation is supposed to begin or end. My lordy, people on here talking about the white master's enslavement and majority rule corruption. The man crashed his plane into the sea so hard it broke in to little pieces and you think the government should bring him back to life ? That is what is really wrong !

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