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Rbdf Commodore Defends Plane Search And Recovery Efforts

Royal Bahamas Defence Force Commodore Tellis Bethel speaks on Friday. Photo: Terrel W. Carey Sr/Tribune Staff

Royal Bahamas Defence Force Commodore Tellis Bethel speaks on Friday. Photo: Terrel W. Carey Sr/Tribune Staff

By KHRISNA RUSSELL

Deputy Chief Reporter

krussell@tribunemedia.net

THE day after civilians discovered debris from missing pilot Byron Ferguson’s crashed plane, Royal Bahamas Defence Force Commodore Tellis Bethel vehemently defended his organisation’s search and recovery efforts.

He maintained that marines have made every effort for the past nine days in which the search “pushed the envelope” but was careful not to compromise safety.

However, while Mr Bethel attempted to make a compelling case for these efforts since the incident last week Thursday, neither he nor other officials present could definitively tell reporters at what time the search was suspended in the hours following the crash in waters off Nirvana beach. Neither could they say when the search resumed.

They did, however, present a list of reasons from vessels not having sufficient gas to there being low visibility, needing to mobilise additional equipment for a more extensive search, and suggesting fatigue as to why the search had been called off Thursday night.

It was also contended that there had been no dive search efforts on Saturday and Sunday due to “inclement weather”.

The commodore further admitted that the RBDF could have done a better job in its communication with relatives and the media after it was revealed that marine divers had discovered oil containers, residue and other light weight materials on the seabed Tuesday. Some pieces were also found Friday morning, although it is unclear what they were

It also seems there was not a command centre set up for communication purposes, by Mr Bethel’s own admission.

At several points in Friday’s press conference Mr Bethel seemed to be on the defensive saying at one point that people were taking an “I gotcha approach” in waiting for mistakes to be made, adding that some members of the press had withheld information to “whack somebody over the head with it”.

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On Thursday, 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

Asked how civilians were successful in locating portions of the plane within 40 minutes of entering the water, Lieutenant Commander Derrick Ferguson said this area had previously been cleared by marines.

“Search and rescue is a science. (It) is something that we do based on the weather pattern, based on what the weather is doing, based on the sea, state the tide flow. We now go ahead and we do what is a dive search area,” he said. “The dive search area that we initiated on that day was pretty much focusing around the search area where the last sighting of the tail of the plane as noted.”

Officials noted the tail of the small aircraft was spotted by RBDF vessel P115 and by several other persons and the spot marked. But they said Friday no efforts were made to retrieve it at the time because the priority then was to look for persons who could have been alive in the water. The concern, was further heightened, the commodore said, because of ambiguity about how many persons had been on board.

Commander Ferguson continued: “So we would have dived that area and we would have been confident in that one mile range of dive that we did that there was no other debris that we found in that area. So for that day we would have cleared that dive search area. With subsequent dives you know do a shifting of your dive search area. In which case you would have seen on Tuesday our dive search area shifted to the east and on Tuesday the 13th our divers were now finding debris that came from that plane wreckage.”

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Byron Ferguson

Despite an initial statement from officials on the scene of the crash last Thursday that the search had been called off hours after the search, Commander Shone Pinder disagreed.

He said: “The search never ceased. What we had was an ongoing effort to ensure initially the emphasis on discovering life and that effort continued. Recognising that we cannot predict when the call would go out for our vessels to respond the vessels that responded were not necessarily on full tanks.

“At some point after they would have exhausted four hours after into the search and had to continue to make preparations for divers to do more intensive search they had to return in and so our efforts continued in earnest and we had to return to replenish and to ensure that our fuel, our personnel (and) the divers were embarked, the right equipment was embarked and so there was always throughout the entire process search efforts going on.”

When it was presented to him that reporters had been told the search was being called off at 1o’clock Friday morning, he said: “What happened was we had a suspension of search in terms of the surface search craft having to return to bring in additional divers to ensure that the right equipment was being brought in.”

Asked to reveal specific times he said personnel returned to the site to dive at “first light” which would have been shortly before 6am.

Pressed further on the time divers left and returned he said: “I’ll say this without getting specific with the time it was well after 0200 hours when our surface craft went in and of course we had to allow for our people an opportunity to get the right equipment to initiate a dive operation at first light.

“I want you to appreciate the environment under which that search was being conducted. There was ambiguity as to the number of persons on board, the plane and all response efforts was focused towards ensuring that life was preserved. If somebody was in the water we wanted to make sure we saturated the area to assure that we could rescue life. The emphasis was on rescuing life.”

Later he said specific times would eventually be documented for public knowledge, but as an investigation is ongoing the information could not be released.

Nonetheless, officials told reporters they did everything they could do in this situation, noting officials always first take into account a best-case scenario.

As the search continues for Mr Ferguson, the criticisms have not fallen on deaf ears.

Commodore Bethel said training is always ongoing at the force.

“Rome was not built in a day. Sometimes you compare us to military services that been around for 250 over 300 years. We only been around for 38 years and we are well ahead in comparison to where they were many centuries ago so training and development is a major thing for us. As a matter of fact it was just several weeks ago the defence force conducted an advanced dive programme for its members so we are always training staff,” he said.

Comments

sheeprunner12 9 months ago

Case closed .............. He's fired for sure ........... Resign or retire to save your dignity, Sir.

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Greentea 9 months ago

you know and I know that not a dam thing will happen to him. incompetence is the name of the game in the Bahamas, without consequence. it will be our undoing.

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DonAnthony 9 months ago

Is it just me or should this commodore have been fired a long time ago? He has a lot to say now, when the prime minister embarrassed him telling him “to stop mashing up our boats” he had nothing to say. Please do the dignified thing and just resign. The buck stops with you and we need accountability finally in this country. We simply have very incompetent pathetic people leading many of these ministries. Garbage in garbage out. Until we start firing people for such gross incompetence nothing will ever change in this country.

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DDK 9 months ago

Quite right, but does the buck not actually stop with the PM?

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Greentea 9 months ago

as he was saying...incompetence... it starts at the tippy top

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TalRussell 9 months ago

Ma Comrade Don Anthony, while not least surprised at Minnis's, Trumpism attack on Commodore - the personal attack by Chief Law Enforcement AG Carl Wilshire - did set me back in surprise.

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Baha10 9 months ago

What a fiasco, this is becoming more and more embarrassing ... imagine if this this had been a Commercial Airline full of Tourists, we would be DONE as a Vacation Destination!

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Jonahbay 9 months ago

38 years is long enough to have a rescue team that could have found the plane and been recovering it from the following morning. If HeadKnowles can find it with amateurs in 40 minutes, what does that say about our Defense Force? I cry shame on the RBDF. Apologise for your total ineptude. They have proven that they would not be able to find a rubber ducky in a bathtub.

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Clamshell 9 months ago

The man does not know his history well. Within 6 years of going from colonials to a free nation, the American army defeated the British army and navy, then the most powerful force on earth. He’s worse at history than he is at organization. But he is a pretty fair hand at making excuses.

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TalRussell 9 months ago

Luckily for Yankees at what would be end their fatigued-out seven-year revolutionary war with British, they had French comrades to come their aid help defeat the Red Coats.... Now, there's something remind Trump of to really finish his pissing off over little left his sanity curve.

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Clamshell 9 months ago

Hah, true dat, Tal ... ;-) Basically, tho, what the French did was cut off the British fleet that was en route to support Cornwallis at Yorktown, forcing the final surrender. The Yanks had help from a couple of French and German generals who assisted with training, but the ground troops were pretty much all colonials. But you do know your history better than this dude.

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newcitizen 9 months ago

Why is it so hard to take some responsibility. So many excuses, always another excuse for why someone didn't do their job. It's like a disease in this country, everyone's got the 'excuses'.

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bogart 9 months ago

YOUSE GATS DAT RIGHT...,!!!.....Excuses galore....excuses...excuses...excuses.....BILLIONS OF DOLLARS....IN TAXES....more taxes...to pay for each others.....excuses.....EXCUSES....more taxes....to cover up for wastages....inefficiencies....corruption....excuses....Excuses...game of excuses...you excuse me...I is excuse you...or your family..or...crony....while da other set of politicians await their .....turn....to come in....an make more excuses......

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rawbonrbahamian 9 months ago

How did the Bahamas Govt become responsible for a plane with issue and a subsequent crash in 80ft. Deep water

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DDK 9 months ago

This is what happens when The People get disgusted with a government!

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Clamshell 9 months ago

They are not responsible for the plane crash. Nobody said they were. They are responsible for not being able to find the wreckage, in 80’ of crystal clear water, exactly where they were told a week earlier the plane had gone down. A volunteer guy with a snorkel and a mask found it in 40 minutes. Try to read. Try to keep up.

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proudloudandfnm 9 months ago

There is no defence. Lousy lousy lousy...

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Gabor 9 months ago

All that talk and the gist of the matter is they didn't find something 600' away. 300sq miles? Try 1 sq mile and all there was could have been seen. Now instead of thanking and welcoming the help of the public they closed the area off? Sounds like they don't want more embarrassment.

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SP 9 months ago

No one should be too surprised. This guy and the whole RBDF can't even spot Haitian sloops literally landing right on their doorstep.

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OMG 9 months ago

Excuses, excuses absolutely bloody disgrace. One excuse , shortage of gas-can you believe it? Instead of accepting that they did a lousy half hearted job the commodore should take responsibility and court marshall those involved, and a commission of enquiry should be held into all aspects, after all short of gas this time (which is beyond belief) could affect any future emergency if not corrected. What sort of officers do we have leading this force ?

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Greentea 9 months ago

other countries refuel planes in the air- we cant fill a boat with gas around the corner from where its docked????

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TalRussell 9 months ago

How acting out Trumpism guilty have comrade PM Minnis and his Imperial red cabinet become...... they're quick PeoplePublic humiliate we Queen's Commodore Tellis of the Royal Bahamaland Defense Force in the fashion Trump lashed out at his appointee AG Sessions.

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John 9 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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gbgal 9 months ago

Do we have a Search and Rescue division in the Force? If not, we need one! Such a division would work within defined parameters and established protocols when required. Training would be ongoing and procedures initiated to make use of established international examples where necessary. We must continue to ensure close relationships pertain with our friends and neighbours in the event of serious situations, e.g. BASRA and US Coastguard.

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Gabor 9 months ago

Cronyism from all parties is what's destroyed the RBDF. When you start hiring people based on their political contributions and affiliations, race, gender not on ability, aptitude and the will to serve the country you allow the rot to set in. When you don't punish incompetence, negligence, criminal behavior you sentence the organization to death. The fish stinks from its head. The commodore and minister of security must be dismissed and we can call that a good start.

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sirD 9 months ago

we need a Govt that is not FMN or PLP. the peoples choice. Nothing works well regardless. How did a private party find what Govt. can't.. I personally think the pilot is still alive somewhere after delivering his load of drugs.

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Gabor 9 months ago

You started off good then opened mouth, inserted foot. If you knew Byron you would never have said trash like this.

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sheeprunner12 9 months ago

PHewwwwwwww!!!!!!!!!! ........... this is a curveball

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sheeprunner12 9 months ago

Why has Marvin Dames and Tellis Bethel not tendered their resignations yet??????????

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