By Michael Jordan
Henry Fitt’s plane vanished in the Guyana jungle over three decades ago. That plane and its five British passengers have
never been found. But elderly Victor Joseph Fitt, is convinced that his brother’s plane did not crash.
Victor Fitt’s theory about the fate of that Cessna 206, and what happened to his brother, Henry Fitt, will shock you.
Henry Fitt came from one of Guyana’s most famous aviation families. Victor Fitt himself was an experienced pilot, who had even assisted in the manhunt in the fifties for the infamous criminal Clement Cuffy.
Henry was an experienced and respected pilot, having worked at Atkinson Field (now Cheddi Jagan International Airport, Timehri). At the time of our story, he was flying with Toucan Air Services Limited, which operated no-schedule and chartered services. He also held a senior position with the company.
Mr. Fitt recalls that his brother flew often in the interior,
“He was a good flier; anyone who wanted to go flying would go to Henry Fitt.”
It was in late May 1981 that Henry Fitt 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.
According to reports, 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 afternoon came and the plane had still not arrived. 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 the west at the time were at 100 degrees with a velocity of 30 knots.
But night fell without them finding any trace of the Cessna. The search continued the following day with the same result, and eventually, local aviation and Government officials were forced to seek 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.
Two bases were established at Kamarang and Ekereku. The Guyana Government also appealed to its 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.
Vincent Fitt recalls that two of his sons, 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.
But what really happened to Henry Fitt and his passengers?
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.
But nonagenarian Victor Fitt doesn’t for one moment believe that his brother crashed. When I spoke with him, he suggested that his sibling met a sinister fate.
Victor Fitt’s theory is that while taking his passengers near Mount Roraima, his brother’s plane came under attack and was accidentally shot down by hostile forces. He bases this theory partly on the fact that relations between Guyana and Venezuela were not at their best because of the border controversy. He believes that this incident was covered up.
But others who assisted with the search have dismissed this theory.
Aviation expert Captain Gerald ‘Gerry’ Gouveia was in the Guyana Defence Force at the time and recalled that all the pilots in the search and rescue operation were given specific areas to search. Gouveia himself flew low over Mount Roraima in an effort to locate the plane.
“We searched for days and never found him.”
As for Vincent Fitt’s theory about his brother being shot down, Gouveia said that despite the tensions at the time, the Venezuelans “were not in a shoot-down mode.”
To illustrate this, Captain Gouveia recalled that he had once accidentally ended up in Venezuelan territory while flying the army camouflage Skyvan plane near the border in 1982.
He said that two Venezuelan fighter jets “escorted” him back into Guyana territory without a show of hostility. Captain Gouveia pointed out that in contrast, the Cessna Henry Fitt was flying was “a little plane”, which would not have aroused any hostility.
“We never had any hostility from Venezuela…not from the air anyway.”
The veteran pilot explained that Henry Fitt was flying from Anna Regina to Mount Roraima. “The minute he passed the Mazaruni River, he would have been flying into difficult territory.”
“It’s not unusual that planes could fly into the canopy (of trees) and disappear; probably sink in a river. In Henry Fitt’s days, there was no GPS (Global Positioning System to assist pilots to navigate). So, Henry Fitt was flying into very difficult territory, using all the bravery and skill of a bush pilot. He was a good and experienced pilot. He was taking tourists to Mount Roraima, which was quite an innovative thing to do at the time.
“We have had a lot of unexplained crashes. We could speculate forever about what happened to the other pilots. It points to pilot error, but families don’t want that legacy. Saying that the Venezuelans shot him down, is (perhaps) a way to keep his legacy alive.”
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You can also reach us on telephone numbers 22-58465, 22-58458, or 22-58473, or contact Michael Jordan at [email protected]
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