There are times when incidents force one to change all plans. Sometimes these very incidents cause people to realize that things are not as bad as one may believe; that the people of this country have a lot to be thankful for.
I had got home rather late, close to midnight, because a lot had gone wrong earlier in the day. I was to concentrate on an issue that greatly disturbed my employer and some other people. This issue also disturbed me because I was not too clear on what was really the truth. The result was that the work backed up and it was not until late into the evening that I began to concentrate on the news that constituted yesterday’s newspaper.
I managed to drop off to sleep about one in the morning and must have been dreaming about something, because I cannot remember any of it. Something irritated me in my dream and dragged me to reality. It was my cellular phone with its annoying ring.
I take every call and people have been known to call me at every conceivable hour, more often than not with shocking news. This time around, it was a call to inform me that an aircraft had crashed at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport. I knew the source, but I always check the information. I asked the caller to double check, because it was unusual to have an aircraft crash at the CJIA.
I recalled a helicopter having its skids become entangled in a mat on the ground and crashed. One man died. Paratroopers sustained injuries while jumping out of aircraft over the airport and some time in the 1940s, an aircraft of World War Two vintage went down a few miles from the airport. It was found in the 1980s by someone walking the trail.
Two years ago when the air traffic controllers went on strike I recalled President Bharrat Jagdeo saying that one does not make joke with one’s only international airport. I remember him saying that all it would take was a crash to make a hash of Guyana’s ability to attract international flights.
The call I got shortly after two in the morning caused me to call a number of contacts, one of them an air traffic controller. I got him out of bed and he was incredulous. A crash at the airport? A few minutes later he confirmed my worst fears. He also informed me that the craft had broken in two.
I had asked that a call be placed to Glenn Lall because we wanted to stop the press. He suggested that we allow the press to run but that he would head to the airport to get the story and photographs. Meanwhile, I posted the early information online.
There was to be no more sleep for me until sunrise when I got about an hour before the telephone started going again.
Glenn Lall had picked up Michael Jordan and together they fed me a horrifying tale. It was a tale of the aircraft overshooting the runway and crashing through a perimeter fence. The good news was that no one had died but that some people had sustained broken bones and other injuries.
A senior nurse called to inform me that the authorities had requested all the ambulances at her hospital. Another informed that the Georgetown Public Hospital had gone into emergency mode to accommodate an influx of the injured.
Then I saw the photographs and they were horrifying to say the least. Guyana had had its first major plane crash. It was going to be placed on the map again for all the wrong reasons. And so it was. One of my sisters called me from the United States to inform me that the crash had made television news in New York. And it was there on all the major websites.
Just a few short months ago the authorities staged a simulated crash. Simulations are good but when the real thing occurs more often than not, the situation is far different. The people who participated in the simulation were not there but they responded quickly.
Taxi drivers raced to the scene to help the injured but there were the unscrupulous who charged some people from the aircraft to transport them to the terminal. This needs to be investigated.
We saw the injured, and to a man, they detailed a horrifying experience. They spoke of the screams and the panic aboard the aircraft. They could not talk about the panic at the airport where relatives had gathered and where the authorities were witnessing something for which they had trained but never expected to happen.
When I saw the photographs I gave thanks to the Supreme Being. Just the other day in Canada there was a similar crash. The aircraft burst into flames and people died. Guyana did not suffer such a calamity. Someone is really watching over us. There were somewhere between 140 and 165 people on board. Many must have just awoken from the slumber since it was early morning. I can imagine how they felt inside the aircraft.
One woman said that her husband was sitting by one of the exits and he opened it as soon as the plane stopped. This was a man who kept his wits.
The local head office of the airline should have held a press conference soon after but way past noon there was no sign of this happening. Suffice it to say that people are going to file a barrage of lawsuits against Caribbean Airlines.
The local lawyers were not as predatory as their counterparts elsewhere but a few hours later, people were contacting them. Guyana did nothing wrong. The pilot simply misjudged his approach with near fatal consequences.
However, there is a lesson to be learnt. At all times we must have fire tenders on the alert and ambulances at the ready on the runway. At one time we did, but today we simply stand at the ready, just in case.
Saturday morning the “just in case” happened.
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