RBDF search efforts questioned
NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Less than two hours after civilian volunteer divers began an independent search on Thursday for missing pilot Byron Ferguson and his twin-engine Aztec aircraft that went down miles off Love Beach one week ago; divers discovered pieces of the plane and have called into question the search and rescue efforts of authorities.
The drastic turn of events presented a glimmer of hope for family but now they have more questions than answers.
Civilians took the search and recovery efforts into their own hands Thursday morning after search efforts by Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) marines turned up empty. Yesterday marked one week since the plane crashed in waters a quarter of a mile off Nirvana Beach.
“If nobody’s going to look, then we are going to look,” said Gina Knowles, who lead the search efforts on her private vessel.
“We would have done this sooner but our boat was out of the water being fixed. As soon as we got the boat back last night we sent out a message on social media for persons to join us for our search efforts today.
“Both my husband and I kept saying that there is no way that we cannot find one piece of this plane.”
A group of 18 civilian divers, led by Knowles, boarded her private vessel ‘Live Fish,’ sometime around 11:45 a.m. Thursday.
The team departed from Montagu Beach and headed toward the crash site, which sits just off the coast of western New Providence with every intent on finding something that could assist authorities with their investigation.
“We already had the pin from where the plane landed from a friend of ours who was on the Bahamas Air and Sea Rescue Association (BASRA) boat. So, we decided that we would start from there,” Knowles shared.
Knowles said it wasn’t long before divers found what appeared to be pieces of Ferguson’s plane.
“Six hundred feet from the original site of the crash is where the first diver found debris from the plane. It was literally only 70 feet below the surface,” Knowles exclaimed.
Angelo Robinson, one of the first divers to spot the debris on Thursday, gave his account of the search effort to Eyewitness News.
“I was actually on the surface snorkeling and once we spotted it we signaled for the boat to come closer to us with divers and the tanks and then go down to get a closer look,” he recalled.
He expressed his disappointment that RBDF marines were unable to find anything for an entire week.
“I would have assumed that marines would be properly suited for rescue efforts, but apparently they were not,” he surmised.
“If we could have found what we found snorkeling on the surface a week later I feel as if there was a concerted effort from the RBDF with divers, something more could have been done.”
Divers managed to salvage what appeared to be a portion of the plane’s tail or wing, the aircraft’s battery and documents which appeared to be Ferguson’s flight plan.
The group of civilians were intercepted by police officers immediately after their dive and escorted to the Harbor Patrol Base.
Ferguson’s mother, brother and wife were inconsolable when reunited with the only remains connected to their lost relative.
“They didn’t even go in the water,” Ferguson’s brother cried. “They just shut down all the lights, packed up everything and left. They didn’t even try to find him.
“They wrong man mommy, they wrong.”
The civilian divers revealed that their search efforts didn’t require any special equipment.
They reportedly used regular oxygen tanks which are typically used in recreational diving.
Knowles suggested that Thursday’s discovery by civilians’ casts doubts on recovery efforts executed by the RBDF.
“If they did go in the water and looked, they would have found something. We have enough people on the force to do the same thing that we did,” she argued.
Knowles confirmed that she and her team of divers will return to conduct more searches at the crash site and have extended an invitation to others to join them in this effort.
The top brass of the Royal Bahamas Police Force was at the Harbor Patrol Base on Thursday afternoon, but gave no statement to the media on the discovery.
Officials from the Air Accident Investigation Department (AAID) were also at the patrol base to photograph the evidence.
The AAID also declined comment.
Numerous attempts to contact RBDF Commodore Tellis Bethel have proved unsuccessful since the crash last week Thursday.