– US aviation experts arrive today
Eight US aviation experts along with makers of top aircraft manufacturers Boeing are expected arrive in Guyana today to help local authorities probe the crash of a Caribbean Airlines aircraft which split into two but miraculously saw the survival of all passengers and the crew.
“It’s an absolute miracle what happened here in Georgetown,” said Caribbean Airlines Limited (CAL) Chairman George Nicholas, who flew into Guyana with top executives of the Trinidad government-owned airline.
The aircraft, a Boeing 737-800, ran off the runway and broke into two at around 01:32 Saturday morning.
Kamla Persad-Bissessar, the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago arrived in the country last evening and was taken on a tour of the wreck site. A teary-eyed Persad-Bissessar told local journalists at the airport that the Trinidad government was saddened at what happened and called the survival of all the passengers and crew nothing short of a miracle.
On board the flight were 96 American passport holders (most of whom are believed to be Guyanese), 44 Guyanese passport holders and 12 Canadian passport holders.
Neither the government nor the airline is giving any preliminary thoughts on how the crash happened, but Persad-Bissessar called for a speedy investigation, and said her government was willing to help.
“Obviously something did go wrong,” she said. Earlier in the day, Minister Benn suggested the investigation could go on for months.
He could not say unequivocally if all airport systems were in place at the time of the accident.
Caribbean Airlines disclosed that the pilot who was commanding the aircraft at the time has been flying to Guyana for the past 25 years.
Benn said that at the time of the accident there was a light shower with visibility of eight kilometers, which is good visibility to allow for a safe landing.
Local Army and Police have secured the scene of the crash to allow for the investigations. Transport Minister Robeson Benn said that the black box and voice data recorder have been retrieved.
The aircraft was acquired by Caribbean Airlines at a cost of US$38 million. Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar said that the aircraft was insured.
Officials of the US’ National Transportation and Safety Board will arrive in Guyana this evening to assist local authorities as they try to determine what happened. They will be assisted by aviation experts from Trinidad, and Guyana is also looking for help from Barbados and Jamaica. Suriname aviation officials were already in the country yesterday.
The accident affected all flights coming into Guyana for a few hours, but the airport began operating as per normal from 11:30 hrs yesterday.
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, New York. The crew was switched in Trinidad for the journey onward to Guyana, Caribbean Airlines said.
Betsy Myndyllo recounted that just before touchdown, she was joking with the girl next to her about the fact that whenever you come to Guyana you should walk with an umbrella because it always rains in Guyana.
Suddenly, she said she heard this sound and when she realised there was going to be a crash her mind immediately swung to the Hudson River crash landing of January 2009.
“Everything starting caving in, and the girl next to me just sat there motionless in shock, said Myndyllo. She braved the light shower to make the 20-minutes trek from the crash site to the airport terminal with the aid of her two nephews.
“It was pitch-black,” she recalled.
The three of them, along with other relatives are in Guyana for a family reunion.
“I saw death flash before me,” said Maxine Eversley, another survivor. A US-based Guyanese who was returning home for two weddings. She suffered a fractured neck.
“All I was seeing was my five children,” she said. She was assisted by airline officials to get off the craft, but her husband, Samuel Eversley, and her niece, Odessa Forde, jumped out of the aircraft, sustaining injuries to themselves. Forde suffered trauma to the head, while Eversley suffered a broken leg.
“Caribbean Airlines immediately activated its emergency response programme and is in direct contact with the relevant authorities. The airline’s primary concern at this time is for those on board the aircraft and their families,” CAL said in a statement.
Nicholas said Caribbean Airlines is putting together a team of psychologists and other health personnel to counsel passengers and crew members.
Most of the injured were treated at the Diamond Diagnostic Hospital before being taken to the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation. The Georgetown Hospital has so far treated 35 persons.
Immediately the authorities summoned ambulances from the various health institutions in and around Georgetown, some coming from as far as West Demerara.
Initial reports suggest that the pilot landed far down the runway and could not stop in time.
Trinidad immediately flew in another craft which landed and was ready to fly out the more seriously injured.
One female passenger said that she heard a loud sound when the plane landed. She said that everyone, including herself began screaming. “It was terror,” she said. “I was praying to Jesus.”
She said that she was sitting near the emergency exit with her husband, who opened the emergency door and passengers began exiting the plane. She was complaining of pains to the stomach, which were inflicted by her seatbelt when she was flung forward.
Kaieteur News also spoke to an overseas-based Guyanese, whose wife suffered neck and back injuries. The couple is here on a two-week vacation.
At the end of yesterday, several of the passengers had received all their luggage, minus a few personal effects. The airline said it was trying its best to ensure that all passengers received their personal belongings and would compensate passengers for missing items.
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