AG slams RBDF investigation

Attorney General, Carl Bethel.

While noting he had no more knowledge than the public on the investigation into a plane crash off Nirvana Beach last Thursday, Attorney General Carl Bethel suggested yesterday that there may be a need to further sensitize Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) marines in these crisis matters to have a much greater sense of urgency.

“You see the difficulty is because it’s on the marine side, then an unmotivated entity; an entity not sensitized to that particular job — you know its sensitized to catching smugglers, catching human traffickers, catching poachers [and] defense — so, for this aspect of civil intervention into some crisis, perhaps there’s a need for stronger sensitization of the marine unit of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force to ensure that the sense of urgency that a family would feel is also shared by those who are in the immediate vicinity and that the principle of no stone left unturned until we find this thing, must prevail, must prevail,” Bethel said in the Senate.

In an earlier contribution, Senator Fred Mitchell also expressed some concerns about the handling of the search and rescue effort.

According to authorities, Air Traffic Control lost radar contact with the Piper Aztec aircraft around 9:03 p.m., shortly after the pilot, Byron Ferguson, 34, reported he was experiencing difficulties.

Ferguson, who remains missing a week later, was en route from West Palm Beach, Florida.

Authorities reported on scene last Thursday that parts of the aircraft had been located during the search and rescue effort.

The search was suspended around midnight until Friday morning.

When divers returned to the same coordinates, however, those parts were not in the same position and believed to have shifted, according to authorities.

Bethel, who pointed out that the Air Accident and Investigation Department has exclusive purview of the investigation at this stage, said it was unimaginable for authorities to have seen a part of the wreckage and leave the area that night.

“I am only going by what I heard,” he said. “They saw a piece of wreckage they say, and they left the site. It boggles the mind if that is so. It is unimaginable.

“If I feel that way about something like this; if my colleagues opposite [in] here who sit beside me… feel as a body that about a circumstance like that, how much worst must the family feel? So, we have to spend some time with our colleagues — and I don’t believe that there is any ill-will or malice or whatever — but we have to work with our marines.

“We have to work with our defence force to get them to see that, yes, even if it is only in finding a crash site, that is as important to the defense of the well-being of the Bahamian people — defending our well-being because how can we prevent such things from happening unless we investigate each and every one?

“How can we show our true concern for the human beings involved if we call off the search at the slightest pretext? It cannot be the situation. It cannot happen.”

Bethel said he intends to reach out to his colleagues as soon as possible to determine whether any procedural errors or otherwise were made in an effort to ensure “this will never, ever, be repeated again”.

He said the impact on families and the damage being done to the psyche of the nation is “unacceptable”.

Family members raised concerns on Sunday over the handling of the search and rescue effort and questioned why parts of the aircraft spotted Thursday night could not be located the next morning. Addressing the matter outside Cabinet Tuesday, Minister of National Security Marvin Dames said while responders spotted a “piece of the aircraft” Thursday night, that part disappeared from sight as the search and rescue teams got closer.

The pilot’s relatives also claimed Sunday that prior to a meeting that morning with RBDF Commodore Tellis Bethel, authorities had not kept them informed on the search efforts.

Noting the sensitivity of the matter, Mitchell, who said he knows the family very well, also called into question the level of communication between authorities and relatives.

“When there is a homicide in this country the police have a designated individual [who] is assigned to coordinate with the family what police are doing,” he said.

“They give you a telephone number and they give you a name, and they say if there is anything you want to know about that investigation, you call that person and that person will tell you what is happening with the investigation. That does not seem to have applied in this case.”