Search and rescue shortfall after crash

Over a year after Byron Ferguson disappeared after his plane crashed into waters north of New Providence, a final report from the Air Accident Investigation Department revealed shortfalls in the relevant authorities’ response to the accident.

The report raised issue with the search and rescue procedures, calling for the government to establish an organization dedicated solely to search and rescue efforts.

It also revealed that the U.S. Coast Guard determined that Ferguson could have survived for more than five days following the crash, but noted that the estimate did not take into account potential physical injuries or unconsciousness.

Chief Investigator at the Air Accident Investigation Department Delvin Major said recommendations have been made to the government to improve search and rescue efforts.

He said the government still has about 90 days to respond and advise its course of action on the matter.

“One of the recommendations that came out of that was that the government needed to further enhance the departments that deal with search and rescue, because that, we realized, was a shortfall,” he said.

“So, we made a recommendation to the government that they would need to look at the infrastructure in place now, as it relates to search and rescue, and they need to enhance that and ensure that that sector complies with the international community’s recommendations.”

He added, “One of the shortfalls that was identified was that the search and rescue didn’t stay on scene as long as the public would have wanted. We did do an in depth analysis of the services that were done. And based on that, we saw that there was a lot of room for improvement.”

Major noted that currently, several agencies help with search and rescue efforts, including the defense force, the Bahamas Air Sea Rescue Association (BASRA) and the U.S. Coast Guard.

“But again, the country, the state, the government is still responsible to ensure that these agencies act together to do search and rescue whenever an aircraft goes missing, whether it’s in the water or it’s on land,” he said.

The report also raised concern over The Bahamas’ non-compliance with Annex 12 of the Chicago Convention, which a recently passed bill is seeking to address.

“During the course of this investigation, The Bahamas’ non-establishment of the standards and recommended practices of Annex 12 (search and rescue) to the Convention on International Civil Aviation were highlighted due to the nature of this occurrence,” it read.

“The investigative process identified that within recent years, steps were taken by the government of The Bahamas to rectify this deficiency. However, this process has seemingly stalled and would require a conscientious commitment on the part of the government in order to rectify this issue.”

The Aircraft Accident Investigative Authority Bill, 2019, passed in the Senate on Monday, is expected to rectify this matter.

During the debate of the bill, Minister of Tourism and Aviation Dionisio D’Aguilar said it is expected to get rid of conflicts of interest and bring The Bahamas’ accident investigation procedure in line with international standards.

Major said, “The previous legislation that was in place, it was lacking, because it did not capture the latest amendments to the International Civil Aviation Organization.

“Those amendments, which are now captured in this bill, which will be an act shortly, those amendments gave more authority to our department to investigate and to require authorities, agencies, anyone else, they are now required to assist us more so than they were under the previous regulations.”

Ferguson’s younger brother, Anvon Ferguson, said that while the report does little to comfort him over the loss of his brother, he hopes that another family will not experience the same thing.

“Honestly, it’s not a matter of vindication for me, because at the end of the day, nothing will bring my brother back,” he said.

“But I would like to see the necessary procedures put in place. I just don’t want it to be where this tragedy happens in vain.

“Let’s take the next step and put these procedures in place, so that in the event that something like this happens again, no other person or family would have to go through what my family went through.”

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Rachel Knowles

Rachel joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2019. Rachel covers national issues. Education: University of Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish

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