Oct 10, 2016 News
By Michael Jordan
A writing desk, a Queen’s College tie, and the vestments he wore as an altar boy are the few cherished belongings that 85-year-old Dorothy Norton has of her son, Eric Norton, one of the eleven Guyanese who were killed by a terrorist’s bomb 40 years ago.
Approaching 86 soon, a publicity-shy Mrs. Norton, says that she’s long given up hope that justice would be meted out to those behind the Cubana Air Disaster. Her husband, former Deputy Fire Chief Harold Norton, passed away some years ago, still unable to come to terms with the loss of the couple’s only child.
But I detected no bitterness in her voice when I spoke with Mrs. Norton this week. She seems to seek solace in the good memories Eric left in the short time he spent on earth.
“I just don’t think of justice (anymore). I just thank God for the years my husband and I had with our son. He was a happy child.
“My son’s room is still there. His writing desk is there; one of his school ties and his church vestments are there. His school shirts and bed are there. I have a good feeling…it’s not hard for me to go into his room. I know that he left (home) a happy child, and that is the main thing. He was a wonderful child. He never gave us any trouble.”
It was on October 6, 1976, that a terrorist’s bomb brought down Cubana Flight 455, which was heading from Barbados to Jamaica.
All 73 people on board the Douglas DC-8 aircraft were killed in what was then the most deadly terrorist airline attack in the Western hemisphere.
They included 57 Cubans, 11 Guyanese and five North Koreans. The Cuban national youth fencing team were among the dead, as were a number of young Guyanese academic scholarship winners who were traveling to Cuba to pursue studies in medicine.
Among the Guyanese victims were Jacqueline Williams. 19, a student; Ann Nelson, 18, a student; Rawle Thomas, 18, a student; Raymond Persaud; Seshnarine Kumar, 18, a student; Sabrina Harripaul, 9; Margaret Bradshaw – the wife of a Guyanese diplomat then serving in Cuba; Rita Thomas, Violet Thomas, Harold Norton, and Gordon M. Sobha – an Economist.
The bombing was considered then the deadliest terrorist airline attack in the Western Hemisphere.
Mrs. Norton and her husband, Harold, had accompanied their son to the airport. “We were at home when a fireman came and told us the sad news.”
Mrs. Norton was the stronger of the two in dealing with the tragedy. Her husband Harold, who wore his son’s shoes, would even break down in church when he saw young servers going up to the altar, dressed in the vestments his boy once wore.
“My husband cried in church. Whenever the servers were going up, I would have to hold his hand, because the tears would come.”
It was on October 6, 1976, that the Cubana Airways Flight CU – 455 was scheduled to fly a route from Guyana to Trinidad, Trinidad to Barbados, Barbados to Jamaica, and finally from Kingston, Jamaica to Havana, Cuba.
At 13:24h, some nine minutes after takeoff from the Barbados Seawell International Airport (now Grantley Adams Airport) a bomb exploded in the aircraft’s rear lavatory.
The plane began descending rapidly, as the pilot tried unsuccessfully to control and return the aircraft to Seawell Airport. Within minutes a second bomb exploded, which caused the plane to crash about eight kilometers from the airport.
This was the first act of terrorism in the Western Hemisphere against civilian aviation. It is remembered as a cowardly act of terror perpetrated on Cuba, North Korea and Guyana.
Four men, Luis Posada Carriles, Orlando Bosch, Hernan Ricardo Lozano and Freddy Lugo— were arrested in connection with the bombing. Freddy Lugo and Hernán Ricardo Lozano were sentenced to 20-year prison terms following a trial in Venezuela.
They had joined the flight in Trinidad; then left the bombs on the plane before disembarking in Barbados. Ricardo confessed to Barbadian and Trinidad officials who were investigating the crime that he and Lugo bombed the plane and that they worked for Luis Posada Carriles.
The third man, Orlando Bosch was acquitted because of technical defects in the prosecution’s evidence. He lived in Miami, Florida until passing away on April 27, 2011.
Luis Posada Carriles was held for eight years while awaiting a final sentence, but eventually fled to Venezuela.
He later entered the United States, where he was held on charges of entering the country illegally but subsequently released on April 19, 2007. Carriles is a Cuban exile militant and former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agent.
He is considered a terrorist by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Government of Cuba, among others. He was a long-time member of the Coordination of United Revolutionary Organisations, described by the FBI as “an anti-Castro terrorist umbrella organisation)
CIA documents released in 2005 indicate that the agency “had concrete advance intelligence, as early as June 1976, on plans by Cuban exile terrorist groups to bomb a Cubana airliner.”
Though Mrs. Norton says that she is satisfied with the efforts that Government is making to preserve the memory of the victims, it was only in October, 2012, that a Cubana Air Disaster Monument was unveiled by former President Donald Ramotar and Cuban Charge d’ Affaires and Economic and Cultural Affairs Officer Praxedes Nordete ceremony at the University of Guyana, Turkeyen Campus, East Coast Demerara.
A commemorative ceremony was held last Friday at the site.
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