Family memorializes one-year anniversary
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — More than a year after missing pilot Byron Ferguson’s aircraft plunged into waters off western New Providence, investigators of the Air Accident and Investigation Department (AAID) are reviewing engine maintenance records to finalize their report on the incident, according to Chief Investigator Delvin Major.
Ferguson departed the West Palm Beach Country Park Airport at approximately 7.25 pm on November 8, 2018, according to an interim report obtained by Eyewitness News Online.
He was en route to Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA) with a load of cargo on board.
But the pilot never made it.
Yesterday, Major confirmed Ferguson was adequately trained to perform his duties and had many years of flying experience in Piper Aztec aircraft.
He also said “fatigue was not a factor”.
A memorial service for Byron was held at Bethel Baptist Church last Friday, a year to the date.
He was remembered as a passionate flyer and an “unassuming warrior with a big heart”, who “lived life everyday being helpful to everyone”.
The 34-year-old father of two, was also a musician, writer, producer, athlete, chef and “unofficial ambassador for a country he loved dearly”.
The family said the pilot adored his family and his action spoke louder than words.
In a Facebook post on the eve of the anniversary, Byron’s mother Agnes Ferguson wrote: “Parents, no matter what love your children unconditionally and do what’s right, despite what anyone thinks.
“With just a day away from reliving my worst nightmare, I’m happy to know that my missing son, Captain Byron Quinn Ferguson, even in his most difficult time, had absolutely no doubt in his mind that his mom was someone he could always count on.
The post continued: “A tracker was placed on his ill-fated flight last November 8 because of serious problems being experienced. Through all that, Byron responded to a texted phone message assuring the sender that his mom would fulfill the request made. Yes, that’s what love looks like. It’s with you at all times.”
She posted a photo of the last text she received from her son that day, which read: “I’ll ask my mommy to.”
An uploaded photo of the tracker, showed Ferguson had completed 29 minutes of his flight to New Providence and was expected to arrive at 8:50 p.m. from West Palm Beach.
Shortly before the aircraft crashed in waters approximately 2.3 nautical miles from the approach end of runway 14 of LPIA, Ferguson advised Air Traffic Control that the aircraft was experiencing engine problems.
The report noted the pilot, major parts and components of the aircraft — a Piper Aztec PA-23-250 — and an undetermined amount of cargo were never recovered as the aircraft was lost to the ocean.
Investigators reviewed aircraft maintenance records, including maintenance checks, technical logs, airworthiness directives, modifications and repairs, airworthiness certification and other related documents.
According to Major, the aircraft was properly maintained and met regulatory requirements, but a further review of the maintenance records of the engine was still being explored.
He said: “In some situations we may be looking beyond compliance to determine if the regulatory framework is adequate.”
The report does not conclude engine malfunction as the cause of the incident; however, the AAID is expected to state the likely cause in the final report set to be released early next year.
“The AAID emphasizes that the factual information that has been gathered to date is preliminary in nature and new information that may become available may alter this information before the publication of the final report,” read the interim report.
“The AAID clarified that the factual information gathered contains facts which have been determined up to the current date only and that this information is made available at this time solely to inform the aviation industry and the public of the general circumstances of this accident and must necessarily be regarded as a tentative and subject to alteration or correction if additional evidence becomes available.”
According to the interim report, Ferguson was operating under instrument flight rules (IFR) — a set of regulations that dictate how an aircraft ought to be operated when a pilot is unable to navigate using visual references under visual flight rules — on the evening of the incident.
Major explained that this was standard protocol for pilots flying over open waters by night.
The report notes investigators also reviewed detailed weather reports from the Bahamas Meteorological Department and a weather analysis conducted by the United States National Transportation Safety Board.
The report does not indicate weather conditions on the day of the incident.
Major told Eyewitness News Online that while Ferguson was rerouted around some adverse weather soon after departing West Palm Beach, weather conditions were clear when he arrived into The Bahamas’ airspace.
As part of its investigation, the AAID also reviewed Federal Aviation Administration Blue Ribbon Package for the aircraft and airman; Air Traffic Control audio recordings and written transcripts from both Miami and Nassau control centers; Nassau Air Traffic Control facility logs; and official written statements and reports from the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, the report notes.
Additionally, investigators conducted interviews for the “gathering of facts regarding the accident”.
The incident was one of intense public scrutiny as law enforcement agencies, particularly the Royal Bahamas Defense Force, which had charge of the search and recovery effort, was put under the spotlight.
In the hours after the crash, authorities advised that they saw debris believed to be from the aircraft; however, when they returned to the same area the following morning, they were unable to locate the wreckage.
A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter and several RBDF patrol vessels responded the incident.
At the time, RBDF Commodore Tellis Bethel said: “No efforts were made to secure the aircraft because our priority right then and there was to look for persons who might have been alive in the water”.
The Ferguson family and even Attorney General Carl Bethel berated the RBDF over the organization’s handling of the initial search and recue effort.
The search for the wreckage slowed in late November. In the subsequent months, the RBDF’s routine patrols were tasked with keeping a look out for anything that might be related to the crash.
Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis promised a full review of the “protocols, procedures and agencies involved”.
In its report, the AAID noted the sole objective of the investigation of an accident or incident is to prevent future accidents or incidents and not to “apportion blame or liability”.
However, Major advised recommendations on the search and rescue effort will be included in the final report.
“In this investigation, while we found no issues directly related to the aircraft or the accident itself that warranted the issuance of safety recommendations; however, we found issues in the aftermath that needed addressing as it relates to search and rescue activities among others,” he said.
“Those issues are highlighted in our report. Had we been able to recover the aircraft and been able to conduct an analysis, it is possible more safety issues could have been identified.”
Major said: “Our report, once finalized, will be sent to The Bahamas Civil Aviation Authority and others concerned and we would expect them to look closely at all our findings.”
Earlier this year, Ferguson’s brothers said they were considering pursuing legal action over the RBDFs handing of the incident.
The status of any action was unclear when Eyewitness News Online spoke to Bjorn Ferguson last week.
He said any report on his brother’s incident was of little consequence to the family and its loss, though he acknowledged the findings and recommendations could help to save someone else in the future.
He said he and his relatives were just trying to “deal with the reality” and find a way to heal from the wound left by the loss of Byron.
Yesterday, Major extended condolences to the Ferguson family.
He noted that over the last year investigators have contacted and met with them several times with updates.
Major underscored it was the department’s policy for the family will receive a copy of the report before it is released the general public.
Explaining why the investigation has taken so long, Major said: “Investigations are complex, and in this investigation it was made more difficult because the aircraft sank with cargo and pilot, and went into a part of the ocean not humanly possible to be retrieved.
“We strive to complete investigations and issue reports as quickly as possible.
He continued: “However, we must take the time necessary to conduct a thorough investigation to advance aviation safety. Be assured that when we uncover serious safety deficiencies during any of our investigations, we don’t wait until the investigation report to make them known. We inform industry and the regulator as quickly as possible.
“In this investigation search and rescue activities, as well as Air Traffic Control procedures were questioned, highlighted and those concerns have been addressed with both the Civil Aviation Authority as well as the government.”
The chief investigator also noted that as part of the AAID’s investigations, similar occurrences within and outside The Bahamas are reviewed.
Major pointed to an incident involving a cargo aircraft that lost an engine and crashed in almost the exact areas as Ferguson on October 18 around 4:45 p.m.
“Fortunately in this event it happened during the day with two pilots on board and they were rescued in a timely manner,” he added.
“So, we will be looking at the circumstances of both accidents for similarities and depending on our investigation may make other safety recommendations.”
The two pilots were rescued by the RBDF.