Crash Exposed Rescue Failings: Emergency Service Not In Place To Deal With Deadly Crash

Civilians with the HeadKnowles non-profit organisation found components of the craft and additional cargo on November 15, last year.

Civilians with the HeadKnowles non-profit organisation found components of the craft and additional cargo on November 15, last year.


Byron Ferguson


Tribune Staff Reporter


THE search and rescue effort for Byron Ferguson after his plane crashed last year exposed gaping loopholes in this country’s civil aviation regime, the final report into the accident reveals.

Investigators concluded Mr Ferguson, 34, could have survived the crash for up to five days under the most optimistic scenario.

However, the Air Accident Investigation Department (AAID) has noted in its report that the country does not have a designated search and rescue entity that meets international standards and has recommended that international requirements be fulfilled.

The AAID report also reveals that it took rescue teams one hour to reach the vicinity of Mr Ferguson’s downed plane after the pilot reported engine problems and crashed.

As a signatory to the Convention on the International Civil Aviation, the country is required to comply with Annex 12 by designating an appropriate entity to perform search and rescue services, by granting the Bahamas Civil Aviation Authority the power to provide oversight of that entity and establishing a rescue coordination centre to support rescue services, according to the report.

AAID Chief Investigator Delvin Major said this country has done none of this.

“There are 12 annexes and (search and rescue) has not been given much emphasis,” he said yesterday. “There is a need for legislation and the designated body has to meet many specific requirements relating to budget, training, manpower, rescue plans and infrastructure and the defence force does not meet the requirements. It’s difficult therefore to blame any one particular body for how the rescue was conducted because none of them are legislatively mandated to be the official search and rescue entity for The Bahamas. The defence force, BASRA, the US Coast Guard, they all assist but none are officially and legally approved to perform the function. We need to designate a body and in doing so equip them according to ICAO requirements.”

An effort to pass legislation for a designated body stalled under the previous administration, Mr Major said, with the current administration hiring an American consultancy group to boost compliance with the annexes.

The AAID concluded that because Mr Ferguson and his Piper Aztec aircraft were never recovered, it is impossible to determine his survival chances.

“The seat occupied by the pilot, or safety restraints used (which in some cases can aid in survivability) could not be determined. Therefore crash survivability is undetermined,” the report said.

The US Coast Guard nonetheless conducted a Probability of Survival Decision Aid (PSDA), examining air temperature, water temperature and the pilot’s physical attributes to produce an estimated survival time. It was concluded that Mr Ferguson’s timeframe of survival was five days.

Mr Major said this could have happened in the most optimistic scenario, one where Mr Ferguson conducted a controlled landing in water, remained conscious after impact and escaped the downed plane.

“We don’t know what happened,” he said. “Because this was at night, he may not have known which way to go after landing. We don’t know if he was conscious after impact or whether he sustained serious injuries. The status of the cargo and whether that could’ve impeded his efforts to escape the plane is unknown as well so we can’t reach a conclusion on his survivability.”

Mr Ferguson’s plane departed the West Palm Beach County Park airport at 7.26pm on November 8, 2018.

Communication between the aircraft and both the Miami and Nassau air traffic control centres was difficult.

Eventually the pilot received and confirmed various instructions from Air Traffic Control, including to land.

However, at 8.50pm he said: “Tower, eight three Charlie, I’m having engine problems.”

Two minutes later, radar contact with his aircraft was lost and the emergency locater transmitter installed on the craft was activated “presumably when the aircraft made impact with the ocean,” the report notes.

ATC immediately initiated emergency response protocols, informing the Royal Bahamas Police Force, Royal Bahamas Defence Force, the US Coast Guard and BASRA.

However, the first RBDF vessel did not arrive on scene until 9.50pm, followed shortly after by vessels from BASRA, a RBPF marine unit vessel and the US Coast Guard helicopter.

The RBDF reported observing the tail section of the aircraft above water but Mr Ferguson nor his plane were retrieved. Search and rescue efforts were called off at 2am on November 9, 2018 and resumed four hours later.

The RBDF recovered parts of the airframe of the craft and other debris between November 9 and 13.

Civilians with the HeadKnowles non-profit organisation found components of the craft and additional cargo on November 15.

The AAID said the “probable cause of the accident was loss of control inflight resulting in uncontrolled flight into” the ocean and that weather was not a factor in the accident.

Mr Ferguson was in full compliance with laws to operate the plane and was certified by the US Federal Aviation Administration.

The search and rescue efforts for him came under withering criticism from his family and relatives have filed an application for judicial review into the situation.


joeblow 1 year, 1 month ago

Absolutely nothing in this country works properly! Nothing!! We throw money at problems expecting that to solve them. So sad!


proudloudandfnm 1 year, 1 month ago

This crash was just a few hundred feet offshore. Very weird they never found anything. I would not be at all surprised if the pilot is found somewhere in this world chillin....

Everything about this crash is a mystery.....


Well_mudda_take_sic 1 year, 1 month ago

Marvin Dames has fixed this problem going forward by recently signing a juicy $17 million contract for 55 search and rescue drones.


John 1 year, 1 month ago

Think they will find the other Marvin who is still missing?


bahamianson 1 year, 1 month ago

we have many things that do not meet international standards, do we need to make a list?


Economist 1 year, 1 month ago

It is always "this is how we do it in The Bahamas". We don't like foreigners telling us what to do and we don't do anything because doing nothing is how we do things in The Bahamas.

It is time we grew up and let some professional and business enterprising foreigners in.


TheMadHatter 1 year, 1 month ago

It is time we recognize that our population is too small to govern itself, and importing Haitians to up the count doesn't help because they don't know how to govern (that's why they are here). We are fully dependent on the USA, and are less than 90 miles from them. It is time we write to the U.N. and request that Great Britain officially abandon us (they have already unofficially), and that the U.S. take us in as the 51st state. What are we waiting for? Or do we just want to remain beggars without benefits forever?


truetruebahamian 1 year, 1 month ago

Never the USA! Return to the UK if necessary - but if not better Canada, Japan or Ireland. I would set up my own system to destroy any USA incursion!


TheMadHatter 1 year, 1 month ago

Maybe for people like you who never travel to the usa, or consume imports from USA, they can have a compromise and let yinna keep Inagua and Mayaguana as independent or yall can let those 2 islands join together under Turks & Caicos. Something has to seriously change though. Our women shouldn't have to sell bread to buy bread.


BMW 1 year, 1 month ago

Economist you are on spot with your comment!


John 1 year, 1 month ago

Maybe this country or its government is still to expectant that the US will always be there to assist.


birdiestrachan 1 year, 1 month ago

was it NO GAMES who said Mr Ferguson did not file a flight plan. Typical


The_Oracle 1 year, 1 month ago

The Government prefers foreign consultants because they can ignore their findings. The consultants couldn't care less as they were paid for their consultancy. The Government will not consult with Bahamians because a Bahamian has a vested interest in their recommendations being implemented, thus can raise hell in public against the government for their inaction. Add to the above the infinite way Bahamians have hidden special interests in ways no foreigner could ever figure out. I hope those drones are water proof.

As to crash rescue, a few airboats on the lakes for a start, and two dedicated coastal bases for ocean going rescue craft. But this is no different than the NEMA act for disaster response, in which the government possesses no heavy equipment, warehouses or materials handling skill or manpower aside what gets pulled from the defense force and police via cancelled vacations etc. No foreign credit with foreign suppliers either. So they write an act that allows for the "appropriation" of private assets, soon to be amended to "resources". The failures, omissions and incompetencies are too numerous to count.


mandela 1 year, 1 month ago

It takes one hour to fly to Miami from Nassau about 160 nautical miles, and it took the RBDF also one hour to arrive from right around the corner maybe five miles away WOW they should be ashamed of themselves, the Minister of Tourism and Governments are always talking about how much percentage full capacity visitors are coming in the country, but god forbid an airliner full of passengers were to have such an accident here we would be done for because with such slow and terrible response like the RBDF did, the international branches would cause all international flights coming here to be stopped.


TheMadHatter 1 year, 1 month ago

Keep dreaming. All international flights would not be stopped. China can come here and build a spy center right across the road from the U.S. Embassy and nothing is done. The Donald won't even appoint an ambasador here since he took office. He has allowed the Senate to play games with Papa Doug. Trust me. The Bah government can do ANYTHING with zero consequences.
We are slaves who pay VAT and that's that. If you visit the PMH maternity ward, you can see the baby slaves being fed artificial milk.


jackbnimble 1 year, 1 month ago

Whole situation is sad and what’s sadder is that nothing has changed. RIP Byron.


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