Jan 20, 2014 News
The pilot who crashed a Trans Guyana Airway’s Cessna Caravan in the Mazaruni is just the latest in a long list of aviators who have fallen victim to Guyana’s hazardous jungle territory.
And in some cases, the victims have never been found.
In May 1981, Henry Fitt, one of the leading pilots of the time, and a member of the famous Fitt aviation family, was given the task of flying five British nationals on a sight-seeing trip in the interior. According to reports, the foreigners had wanted to see Mount Roraima, located on the border with Venezuela and Brazil.
On board the Cessna 206 were Mr. and Mrs. Anthony Goodman of Stafford, England; Jerry Golda of London; Stephen Mulley of Essex; and Gerry Coe of Bath.
The four men were Quantity Surveyors with Sir William Halcrow Ltd., a British consulting firm working on the Tapacuma, MMA drainage and irrigation projects.
Aviation officials last made contact with the plane at around 9:35 a.m. on the day of the flight. At the time, the Cessna was over Phillipai Village in the Mazaruni, on its way to Kamarang.
But the plane never arrived at its destination. Efforts to make contact with the pilot were futile.
Director of Civil Aviation, Aubrey Alexander, spearheaded a search, which included a team drawn from the Guyana Defence Force and the Guyana Airways Corporation.
The pilot of another aircraft reported that he had been in contact with the missing Cessna, and that the winds coming from the west at the time were at 100 degrees with a velocity of 30 knots.
The search continued the following day with the same result, and eventually, local aviation and Government officials were forced
to seek overseas assistance.
Fourteen members of the United States Air Rescue Unit, eight aircraft with Guyanese aviation officials and several privately owned aircraft joined the air and ground search. An aircraft from the Trinidad and Tobago Air Rescue Unit also joined the team after four days of fruitless searching.
The Guyana Government also appealed to their Brazilian counterparts for assistance. And despite the border controversy, permission was granted by Venezuelan officials manning the Magatir Tower in Caracas, Venezuela, for the rescue aircraft to fly over areas controlled by the Venezuelan authorities.
Two of the missing pilot’s nephews, who were also pilots, came from overseas to join in the search for their uncle and his five passengers.
Eventually, after several weeks without seeing any trace of the plane, aviation authorities reluctantly called off the search. In Guyana, a memorial service was held for Henry Fitt.
At the time, aviation authorities suggested that the powerful winds could have blown Fitt off course. They suggested that although he had vast experience flying in the interior, the pilot would have assumed that he was over Phillipai Village, where he was supposed to have landed, when he was fact in another location.
On January 6, 2001, Army pilot, Captain Vickram Nandan, Lieutenant Floyd David Gittens and building contractor, Ravindranauth Sharma, perished when the BN2 Islander that Nandan was flying slammed into Ebini Mountain, some 4.5 miles west of Mahdia.
Nandan, Gittens and three passengers had departed Timehri at 06:15 hrs on January 6 and arrived at Kato at 07:30 hrs. The Army said the aircraft left Kato five minutes later for Mahdia.
Sharma, the contractor on board, had chartered the plane to take building materials from Timehri to Kato, near the border with Brazil in Region Eight (Potaro/Siparuni).
He was contracted under the Social Impact Amelioration Programme (SIMAP) to build a Nursery/Primary School at Kato.
On November 1, 2008, Captain James Wesley Barker, 28, First Officer Chris Paris, 23, both US citizens, and Canadian Patrick Murphy, a Geophysics Technician, headed from the Cheddi Jagan International Airport in a Beechcraft King aircraft for the interior.
Their mission: to conduct aerial surveys on behalf of Prometheus Resources (Guyana) Inc. a Canadian Company that was hoping to locate uranium deposits in the vicinity of Chi Chi, Cuyuni/Mazaruni.
The aircraft had enough fuel for five hours 30 minutes flying and the crew was scheduled to conduct their survey in the Chi-Chi/Imbaimadai area for approximately four hours 30 minutes before returning to the Cheddi Jagan International Airport.
At 15:06 hrs, the crew reported to the Control Tower at the airport that they were commencing normal operations over the survey area.
No further reports were received from the aircraft.
Officials from the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) were alerted to the crisis, and the longest and Guyana’s most intense search for a missing aircraft began.
The initial search team included the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) Air-Corp and Special Forces, along with two British helicopters along with five other planes. These were supported by two aircraft chartered by GCAA from Air Services Limited and two private aircraft.
Ground searches were also conducted by the army. Officials of Prometheus Resources (Guyana) Inc., the company which had sent the men on the survey expedition, also organised its own search party.
Veteran Guyanese pilot Gerry Goveia who had survived a crash some miles from Timehri, explained that the Mazaruni area where they had disappeared was harsh terrain. Even uninjured survivors would be exposed to inclement weather, and a shortage of food and water.
On November 16, 2009, some two weeks after the BeechCraft King Air plane disappeared, Minister of Transport, Works and Communication Robeson Benn announced that the aerial search had been called off.
Nevertheless, officials from Prometheus Resources (Guyana) Inc. decided to continue the search, even if that meant merely recovering the wrecked plane and the bodies of its crew.
Fliers were distributed to residents of the Middle Mazaruni area where the plane was believed to have crashed.
Pilots took aerial pictures which were later posted online and scrutinized by a barrage of pilots.
This was backed up by a team conducting ground searches.
In late November, the search shifted to an area in the Kurupung after a Brazilian miner claimed to have heard an explosion in the location shortly after seeing a plane flying overhead.
But they found nothing.
The search continued into August, 2009, when, aided by specially trained cadaver dogs, a US search-and-rescue team of ex-army personnel, ventured into the Mid-Mazaruni area for one final attempt to recover the victims.
But, like others before them, they found no trace of the plane or victims. They finally acknowledged that the victims may never be found.
The team then dropped wreaths over the area where the plane is believed to have disappeared.
That was acknowledgment that the treacherous Mazaruni jungle would be their final resting place.
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