Air traffic control lost contact at 8:52pm, first RBDF vessel arrived at 9:50pm
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Investigators believe missing pilot Byron Ferguson could have survived for at least five days after he crashed in waters off Nirvana Beach last year.
However, officials make clear this would be under optimal conditions in the final Air Accident Investigation Department (AAID) report, obtained by Eyewitness News Online, on the November 8, 2018 crash.
The report was completed on Monday.
“The US Coast Guard concluded that survival times in the case of this pilot; his functional time and cold survival time to be approximately 120 hours,” the report read.
“Based on the calculations above, it would be reasonable to expect a timeframe of survival of at least five days after the event.
It continued: “However, it should be noted that the medical or physical condition of the pilot, whether or not he sustained any injuries or was conscious after the accident, was not known in the aftermath of what would have been a forceful impact with the ocean.
“Therefore, those calculations would be commensurate with what should be considered as a best-case scenario.”
According to the AAID, the US Coast Guard used a probability of survival decision aid methodology, which utilizes environmental parameters, including air temperature and water temperature, as well as physical attributes such as the subject’s height and weight, among other things, to produce an estimate of survival time.
The AAID said the U.S. Coast Guard was consulted to provide guidance on estimates of survivability in a water environment, as the exact survivability could not be determined.
The AAID also said there was no way to determine the survivability chances as a result of the impact force as the pilot and aircraft were never recovered.
It also noted the seat occupied by the pilot or safety restraints used, which in some cases can aid in survivability, could not be determined.
Ferguson departed West Palm Beach in a Piper Aztec aircraft at approximately 7:26pm.
He was en route to Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA) with a load of cargo on board.
But the father of two never made it.
According to the report, the pilot reported to the Nassau Air Traffic Controller (ATC) that he was experiencing an engine malfunction at 8:50pm.
Ferguson said: “Tower, eight three Charlie, I’m having engine problems.”
At the time, the aircraft was at an altitude of 600 feet based on radar data and was travelling at around 82 knots.
When ATC acknowledged transmission and requested the number of souls and fuel on board, Ferguson never responded.
Approximately two minutes after the pilot’s last transmission, the report stated radar contact with the aircraft was lost.
It was followed by an ELT (emergency locator transmitter), which was activated “presumably when the aircraft made impact with the ocean”.
ATC “immediately” initiated emergency response protocols, informing the Miami Center, LPIA crash and rescue fire services, the police and defense force, the United States Coast Guard and the Bahamas Air Sea Rescue Association.
Search and rescue assets were deployed by the responding agencies, according to the AAID.
The first RBDF vessel arrived on scene at 9:50pm, the report stated.
Shortly thereafter, vessels from BASRA, police force marine unit vessel and the U.S. Coast Guard helicopter arrived on scene.
The AAID said rescue crews attached to the defense force reported that they observed the tail section of the aircraft above the water when they arrived on scene.
However, shortly after visual contact of the aircraft was made, it disappeared below the surface.
With the assistance of the U.S. Coast Guard provided aerial sweeps of the area, using high intensity lights from a helicopter, searches were conducted with “hopes of recovering the occupant(s) of the aircraft in the water”.
But no one was observed or rescued during the search.
Search efforts were conducted until approximately 2am, after which all vessels returned to their respective bases.
Operations resumed at 6am on November 9 and continued for a number of days, but dive efforts were hampered by inclement weather.
The search for the wreckage slowed in late November.
The crash incident was one of intense public scrutiny for law enforcement agencies, particularly the defense force, which led the search and recovery effort.
The AAID has determined the probable cause of this accident to be loss of control in flight resulting in uncontrolled flight into the ocean.
It furthered engine malfunction has been determined to be a contributing factor in the loss of control event.
For more on the report, tune into Eyewitness News at 7pm on Cable Channel 224, BTC Flow Channel 112, or Facebook live.