NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Minister of National Security Marvin Dames yesterday labelled Attorney General Carl Bethel’s criticisms of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force’s (RBDF) handling of the search and rescue efforts for missing pilot Byron Ferguson and his downed aircraft as “off base”.
He asserted that Bethel ought to have been more careful about attacking the RBDF without knowing all of the facts. He also suggested that the attorney general ought to have set a better example.
“I have many thoughts on that,” the minister said in response to questions from the media outside Cabinet. “You know I think he was absolutely off base. I don’t have anything else to say to that, he was off base.
“… Listen, every organization has areas in which they need to improve on; the defence force is no different — the police force; every agency of government, but we have to be careful not to get caught up in the frenzy, you know, of attacking an entire agency in the absence of evidence.”
Ferguson’s Piper Aztec aircraft went down in waters two nautical miles from the airfield at Lynden Pindling International Airport, according to the Air Accident and Investigation Department.
As he pledged to look into whether there were procedural errors or otherwise in the search and rescue effort, Bethel said in the Senate last Thursday that it was unimaginable if the responders spotted a part of the aircraft on the night of the crash, but left the area.
Royal Bahamas Defence Force Commander Shone Pinder refuted Friday that the search stopped after four hours.
He said responders left the area to retrieve certain equipment and replenish fuel.
Yesterday, Dames said, “We as leaders ought to set the example and when we fail to do that, then anything follows. The vast majority of men and women in the Royal Bahamas Defence Force are hardworking people; [in the] Police Force, hardworking. We have to take these things into account.
“I am not saying we can’t be critical. When the facts are there, we need to face up to it, live up to it and address it, okay.
“When we don’t have facts as leaders, we have to be careful when we open our mouths, no matter on what side of the fence we sit — PLP, FNM or DNA. That’s just it.”
Dames, who defended the RBDF’s handling of the search efforts last Tuesday, acknowledged there is room for improvement. He also apologized for some of the things that were said which may have caused additional grief to the family.
The minister did not say which comments he was referring to.
RBDF Commodore Tellis Bethel admitted last Friday that his organization should have communicated more.
Last Thursday, volunteers and civilian divers organized by the online support group HeadKnowles found debris believed to be from the November 8 crash.
It was not revealed until last Friday, that the Defence Force found additional debris on the same day and three days prior.
There has been widespread public outrage over the handling of the search efforts. The RBDF has said every effort was made to “push the envelope” in all aspects of the search.
Dames maintained that the RBDF followed international standards and methods in the search and rescue effort.
Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis has promised to order a review into those efforts and the agencies involved
Dames said he could not speak to when the review will commence but does not believe anyone should be fearful.
“We are in it to bring some resolution, to give the family some peace,” he said. “Criticism will come and that is all a part of it and we have to look at it realistically. Wherever we need to improve, we need to improve, absolutely, but as we criticize, we need to be armed with the facts.”
Search and recovery efforts were ongoing yesterday.
The search has covered over 300 miles of ocean, according to authorities.