By MALCOLM STRACHAN
TRAGEDY has again hit the nation, as one family may have experienced its worst possible nightmare. Bahamian pilot Byron Ferguson, son of veteran journalist Agnes Ferguson, crash landed in waters off Nirvana Beach a week and a half ago. As the search for life continues, the nation fears the worst after debris from the wreckage was pulled out of the water around 600ft away from where the coordinates of the downed plane were initially recorded.
Shockingly, the initial search and rescue attempt by the Royal Bahamas Defence Force was called off after spotting the tail just hours earlier.
There is no doubt that this family was failed.
However, we must first assess which entity this is an indictment of. Is the RBDF, and much broader, the Ministry of National Security at fault? Is it the fault of the Ministry of Aviation? Maybe it’s a combination of failings on both ministries. Or perhaps it is symptomatic of the entire government’s ineptitude and inability to get in front of the issues?
One thing for certain is while there is much blame that can go around, nothing outside of a miracle can ease the enormous pain the Ferguson family must be feeling at this moment.
Interviews given by the family were heartbreaking to witness as desperation, fear, disappointment and betrayal could not be more evident. No Bahamian family – no taxpayer – while gripped by such a flurry of emotions should feel they also have to defend their loved one’s reputation.
Many citizens are calling for National Security Minister Marvin Dames’ head after he falsely promulgated that Mr Ferguson - noted by his family and many who know him to be a very experienced pilot - did not file a flight plan. Video footage shared on a Facebook live feed by local community group HeadKnowles debunked that false claim. Not stopping there, it also brought to light inadequacies in the nation’s marine corps after 12 volunteer divers took only 40 minutes to accomplish what the RBDF wasn’t able to do in eight days - find valuable pieces of evidence to help an investigation that seemed to be going nowhere.
Surely, the lack of communication along with inability to make any headway in the search and rescue mission calls into question the capacity of Commodore Tellis Bethel and Marvin Dames to do their jobs. It also unfortunately brings a stain of failure on that entire arm of our national security agencies. Obviously, there are gaps in our crisis management and preparedness systems.
The Bahamian people cannot help but wonder: “What if?”
What if one of the three runways Ferguson had to forgo because of a lack of lighting were lit? What if Defence Force protocol or training mechanisms incorporated search and rescue missions at night?
Rather than being yet again disgusted with the way something has been handled in this country, we could have been celebrating how something was done right. Mr Ferguson could have already been reunited with his family and this dark cloud that exists over this country would not exist.
Instead, we have confusion about who made or didn’t make the right call, a minister who seems to be hiding, a prime minister doing whatever he does and RBDF personnel becoming defensive with the media during a press conference last week after civilians made a breakthrough in the search and rescue mission.
None of this addresses the matter at hand, which is: How can we prevent an occurrence like this from ever taking place again?
Interestingly, the tenor of the RBDF is one that too often pervades when blunders take place in government – no one wants to accept responsibility for dropping the ball.
We much prefer to pass the blame. It is almost a knee-jerk reaction to being under the hot lamp of public scrutiny.
You would recall nearly a year ago the ill-fated plane crash in Mastic Point, Andros, that took the lives of pilot Darren Clarke and all of his passengers. While the deceased pilot was certainly at fault for putting lives at risk, successive ministers of aviation allowed the proliferation of hacking to take root. And certainly, it may have continued to go unchecked had it not been for those tragic events.
Likewise, the only minister who showed any semblance of accountability was Attorney General Carl Bethel by pointing out the need for sensitisation training within the RBDF. Harping on the fact that there needs to be a greater sense of urgency within the defence force when matters like this occur, Bethel said he would discuss such matters with Cabinet.
Undoubtedly, the government has to put in place the necessary funding to enhance the capabilities of the RBDF, particularly in relation to equipment and training.
Moreover, those in office need to put the shoe on the other foot. What if this had been your loved one? When in positions to affect the lives of the average citizen, there must be a deep desire to help our brothers and sisters. Without that, it is too easy to let the status quo prevail.
That said, it is disheartening that Commodore Tellis Bethel is still in defence mode when it would be much more appreciated if he were to admit where they could have done things better. The continued explanation of what was done by the RBDF is only adding insult to the most grievous injury.
The optics of civilians doing the RBDF’s job does not bode well for Bethel’s future as Commodore - as the Bahamian people will demand someone answer for this debacle.
Finally, it should be all of our shared hope that the Ferguson family can feel the support of the wider community. We pray with them. We, like them, want answers. We, too, demand retribution. But most importantly, we pray that somewhere out there, their son, brother, husband and father is holding on for imminent rescue.