By MORGAN ADDERLEY
Tribune Staff Reporter
SEARCH efforts into the tragic plane crash of pilot Byron Ferguson continue to yield finds of aircraft debris, the Royal Bahamas Defence Force noted in a statement released yesterday.
According to the statement, yesterday’s search – a joint recovery effort involving multiple government agencies and volunteer support – included a deep sea diver who reached a depth of 404 feet.
The diver “discovered more debris cascading down the face of the continental shelf,” sharing that the plane would have “descended into much deeper waters.”
In view of this conclusion, the relevant authorities will meet today to determine the “best course of action” regarding search efforts.
Five key agencies have been involved in the recovery efforts for both Mr Ferguson and the aircraft: the RBDF, the Royal Bahamas Police Force, the Bahamas Air Accident Investigation Department (AAID), Bahamas Air Sea Search and Rescue Association (BASRA), and the United States Coast Guard; in addition to volunteers. Shoreline patrols, boats, a drone, and divers have also been part of the process.
Yesterday, the RBDF said 11 days of extensive search efforts have been organised since Mr Ferguson’s plane crashed in the waters off Nirvana Beach on November 8. The way authorities have conducted search efforts for both Mr Ferguson and his aircraft has been met with much scrutiny and criticism from the public, including Mr Ferguson’s family.
In the statement, the RBDF continued its damage control efforts, which began with a press conference held on Friday, by listing major mileposts that have occurred during the last eleven days of search.
“An RBDF patrol craft had found the tail end of the aircraft (vertical stabiliser) on the night of the incident minutes before it sank in waters ranging in depths from 60 to 1,500 feet,” the statement reads. “Since then, RBDF divers found the first debris field on Tuesday, 13 November, not far from where the tail end was seen.
“A second debris field was found by a voluntary group of divers on Thursday, 15 November, all in 80 feet of water. On Friday 15 November, RBDF divers found debris in 216 feet of water.
“On Monday, 22 RBDF divers and two divers from the RBPF were in the area. Also providing significant support for the dive operation was the glass-bottom boat, Lil Nassau, as well as a two-man dive team consisting of a deep sea diver aboard a 45-foot recreational craft, and a BASRA vessel.
“RBDF divers provided dive support for the volunteer diver, who reached a depth of 404 feet. The dive was carried out near the area where the debris fields were previously discovered.
“The deep sea diver discovered more debris cascading down the face of the continental shelf, and shared with the support teams that the aircraft would have descended into much deeper waters. The entire evolution took approximately two hours for the diver to reach 404 feet and to safely ascend.”
The RBDF noted in the 280 hours since it started daily search operations, over 200 square miles have been covered in the search for a survivor. “In view of results of this latest dive, inter-agency partners will meet tomorrow to determine the best course of action in regard to current search efforts,” the statement concludes.
Regarding the ongoing investigation into the crash, Bahamas Civil Aviation Authority Director General Captain Charles Beneby yesterday said the BCAA will be available to provide “factual information” once the work of the Air Accident Investigation Department is completed. As he extended his sympathies to Mr Ferguson’s family, Mr Beneby noted much “unverified information” has been spread, and in that vein the BCAA, as a regulatory body, will not comment at this time.
The director general made these remarks yesterday during a press conference for Western Air receiving the BCAA’s approval to operate new jets. “I wish to say firstly, as it relates to the incident of last week Thursday (November 8), our thoughts and prayers are with the Ferguson family,” Mr Beneby said.
“This incident is an active investigation, that is being conducted by the (AAID) and for that reason, we are not in a position to comment on that incident.
“Of course, the BCAA has responsibility for regulatory oversight,” Mr Beneby continued. “So once the investigation is completed, we will be joining with the (AAID) to provide more information, factual information – because you can imagine there has been a lot of discussions, a lot of unverified information.
“So we are required to, or (AAID) is required to, find the facts. And once the facts are known, then we will take any necessary action.”
On Sunday, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis said he has ordered a full review of protocols, procedures and agencies involved in air accident response and investigations in the country – “including any systemic or structural problems” — in the wake of Mr Ferguson’s case.
When asked how long the investigation will last and for further comment regarding this revamp of protocols, Mr Beneby referred to an upcoming parliamentary bill. “A new air accident investigation bill is being prepared for presentation in parliament and I’m thinking that that should happen fairly soon.
“BCAA, though, still reserves its position that we prefer – as a matter of fact we’re obligated to wait— until all the facts are in before we can comment any further.”
Julia Brathwaite-Rolle, a BCAA Safety Oversight Department manager, made additional comments on this matter, noting the authority plans to start a public education campaign on matters relating to civil aviation.
“One thing you must understand is … the (BCAA) is the regulator and oversight regime,” Mrs Brathwaite-Rolle said. “We are not the actual ones who go out and perform the activities but we do provide oversight.
“So … as it relates to how does or will that bring changes to the accident/investigation part of it - there’s so many different gamuts and this is one of the things this authority plans to do in educating the public about the processes within aviation and understanding how each department and entity coexist.”