Call it a miracle or just plain good luck, but the passengers aboard flight BW543 all seem to agree that they came terrifyingly close to death last Saturday when their aircraft ploughed through a fence at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport and snapped in two.
There were 163 passengers aboard the Caribbean Airlines Boeing 737-800. Thirty-five were treated at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) for various injuries. Three were hospitalized.
Of those treated, five, including the pilot, are Trinidadians, while three are from the United States.
Still hospitalized are Juliet Shiwbodh, 69, from Whim, Corentyne; Nikita Yansen of Hopetown, Berbice; and Noel Elliot of Kitty.
Shiwbodh, a New Jersey-based Guyanese told Kaieteur News that she has been living in America for the past 22 years, but would return to Guyana every year. This is the first time she ever witnessed a scare on an aircraft.
She, along with her son, daughter-in-law and two grand-daughters were all aboard the ill-fated flight, which had stopped at Trinidad to collect some passengers before heading to Guyana.
Ms. Shiwbodh, who suffered injuries to her face, said that problems began about five minutes after the pilot announced that they were at Georgetown and would arrive shortly at the airport.
The family members were sitting near the emergency door. Shiwbodh felt a lurch and the plane landed heavily.
“We were at the top (in the air) and then it feel like a lurch and we suddenly get bring down in the plane.
“People run to save themselves because them say how fire will take place. Nobody assist me…Thank God for my son. Meh son jump out and open the door and we all start jump out. We climb on the wing and slide down.”
“All we luggage left and everything left; handbags, passport, money, all left at the plane. Me son gone up there now to get we things them. We does always travel with Caribbean Airlines. Now me nah even want hear that name. That done.”
She added that a lot of passengers on board of the plane said “the pilot break record”. “I think nuff people will want to sue the airlines, especially the man who broke his foot.”
Ms. Shiwbodh had struck her head during the crash-landing, and black and blue marks were evident on her face and eyes. She is also suffering from stomach pains and has difficulty breathing as a result of injuries sustained when the seatbelt restrained her. She is likely to remain overnight at the GPHC for observation.
Ms. Shiwbodh’s 10-year-old grand-daughter also sustained injuries to her back and stomach. However, she was not hospitalized.
Shiwbodh’s daughter-in-law had to receive several stitches after striking her head, while the elderly woman’s son sustained cuts and bruises to his feet.
And Nikita Yansen, another US-based Guyanese, was returning to Hopetown, Berbice on vacation.
The 20-year-old was knocked unconscious and suffered cerebral concussion and trauma to her abdomen.
She recalled that the ride became bumpy after the pilot announced that they would be landing shortly.
“The plane made a sudden drop and things began falling from the compartments and something fell on my head, knocking me out cold.
As soon as I open my eyes back the whole walkway was crowded and people were scampering and screaming, trying to get off the plane. I managed to make my way to the door, climbed unto the wing and slide down to safety.
“People was trying to grab their baggage, me too; but after we realize it might catch afire, I left to save myself.”
Yansen explained that the pilot seemed to be “speeding” because as soon as the plane hit the airstrip it kept going with a speed and did not stop. It felt like the plane was sliding.
She is expected to be discharged from hospital today and will return to her home in Berbice for the rest of her vacation. Her luggage, passport, and all other documents were left in the plane.
Noel Elliot, who was admitted to the High Dependency Unit with an injured right leg, says that he suspected that he was knocked unconscious by the impact.
He said that he was unaware that the plane had crashed until he looked through the windows and saw that they were surrounded by bushes.
“I tried to get up, and could not. Two men lifted me out.” According to him, police ranks arrived at the scene some ten minutes later.
He believes that they were fortunate that the aircraft did not burst into flames.
“I surprised no one hurt, because when we came out we realized that the left side engine was smoking. Everyone who was on that plane was lucky to be alive.”
The 46-year-old, who described himself as an investigator with the state of Maryland, said that a Trinidadian official visited him in hospital.
He said that his right knee is dislocated and that he may have suffered a pinched nerve.
And Patricia Pyle, returning home from vacation, told Kaieteur News that the ride became bumpy after they had left Trinidad. She was sitting with her husband, Michael Pyle, near the exit door.
“We just heard this big sound and the plane landed extremely hard. We pitched forward and my glasses flew off.
“It was terror…terror. I was screaming for Jesus. Everybody was screaming.”
“My husband was at the window and he pulled the lever (to open the door) and stepped out onto the wing, and we jumped down.
“We came out with just our passports. I am thanking God that I’m alive.”
A statement from the GPHC said that 35 passengers were treated at the GPHC within a three-hour span. Among them were a 56-year-old female, of Wakenaam who sustained injuries to her head, chin and mouth; a 33 year old female, of 41 Village, West Coast Berbice for trauma to the head; the 52 year old pilot, of Edinburgh Garden, Trinidad, who sustained an injury to his lower back; a 23 year old male from Trinidad for injuries to his back and hands; a 33 year old female, of No.5 Bowen St. Marabal, Port of Spain, Trinidad for injuries to her neck and shoulders; a seven-year- old girl from Lot 63 Second Street, Little Diamond; East Bank Demerara, for injuries to the right side of her neck; a 34 year old female, of Lot 63 Second Street, Little Diamond, for an injury to her forehead; a 62 year old female of Cane Grove who sustained injuries to her head, left hand and knee; a 50-year-old female of 75 Adelaide St., Charlestown, who sustained injuries to her neck, lower back and finger; a 47-year-old female, of 22 Park View, Orange Grove, Trinidad; who suffered pains to the hip and leg; a 21 year old male from No.6 Imorteile Development Main Road, Trinidad, who suffered injuries to the right hand and leg; a 62 year old male, of Crane, West Coast Demerara, who sustained an injury to his left leg, and a 76 year old male of 75 Beterverwagting, East Coast Demerara, who sustained injuries to his neck and lower back.
The aircraft, a Boeing 737-800, ran off the runway and broke into two. It was acquired by the company in 2007 at a cost of US$38 million.
The accident affected all flights coming into Guyana for a few hours, but the airport is operating normally again.
The Cheddi Jagan International Airport, Timehri, is the country’s only international airport.
The flight was BW523, en route from Port of Spain, Trinidad to Georgetown. It had originally left JFK in New York.
And in a brief statement, Caricom Secretary General (ag) Lolita Applewhaite yesterday voiced his concern about the mishap.
“On behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), I wish to express my deep concern at the crash of the Caribbean Airlines Boeing 737-800 aircraft at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, Timehri, Guyana.
“The Community wishes a full and speedy recovery to those who were injured in the accident and is greatly relieved that there has been no loss of life.
“The Community commends the authorities in Guyana and the airline for their swift response to the crisis which ensured the safe evacuation of all passengers and crew.”
“The Community looks forward to the results of the investigation which will determine the causes of the accident with the expectation that it would assist in ensuring no recurrence of such an incident.
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