Majority of air accidents involved foreign pilots/US-registered aircraft

14 percent decrease in air occurrences year-on-year

NASSAU, BAHAMAS – The overwhelming majority of air incidents and accidents between January 2017 and December 31, 2018, involved United States-registered aircraft with foreign pilots, Air Accident Investigation Department (AAID) records obtained by Eyewitness News Online reveal.

In an interview with Eyewitness News Online, chief investigator of the AAID Delvin Major noted that the majority of occurrences in The Bahamas over the last three years has involved foreign pilots, whom he said have been unfamiliar with Bahamian airspace and airports, and have not apprised themselves of the relevant data.

Between January 2017 and December 2017, there were a total of 27 air occurrences; 12 accidents; of which three involved fatalities; five ‘serious incidents’ and seven ‘incidents’.

Between January 1, 2018 and December 31, 2018, there were a total of 23 air occurrences, a marginal drop-off (14 percent) compared to the previous year.

There were 10 accidents, three of which resulted in fatalities; four serious incidents and eight incidents during the period.

According to Federal Aviation Administration, an accident is an occurrence associated with the operation of an aircraft, in which a person is fatally or seriously injured as a result of being in the aircraft, direct contact with the aircraft or direct exposure to jet blast, except when the injuries are from natural causes.

A serious incident is defined as an incident involving circumstances where there was a high probability of an accident.

An ‘incident’ is defined as an occurrence, other than an accident, associated with the operation of an aircraft “which affects or could affect the safety of operation”.

In all three of the accidents in 2017 which resulted in fatalities, the aircraft was piloted by a foreign national.

In May 2017, an airplane en route from Aguadilla, Puerto Rico to Florida with three passenger and a commercial pilot on board went down in waters near Eleuthera.

A U.S. Coast Guard search for three days, but no one was found.

That September, an aircraft that departed Grand Bahama and was headed to Rum Cay never arrived.

A search for the aircraft and the two souls on board was unsuccessful.

Investigators determined that weather conditions may have contribution to the accident, though wreckage recovered was limited.

In December 2017, a plane with a man and woman on board crashed in waters eight miles off West End, Grand Bahama.

The woman survived and was rescued by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter; however, the male pilot was never found.

Of the three accidents involving fatalities in 2018; in two of them, the aircraft with piloted by a domestic pilot, while the third was piloted by a foreigner.

Six people were killed in January 2018 after a small place being piloted by a domestic pilot crashed off Andros.

The victims, including the pilot, were all residents of Andros en route to New Providence.

Investigators determined that the pilots’ limited qualifications, experience and proficiency in operations in weather condition determined to be less than visual meteorological conditions contributed to the accident.

Three American men were killed in June 2018 after the Cessna 421 aircraft crashed in a bushy area about a mile north of the runway shortly after departing Rock Sound International Airport.

It was later determined that engine failure was the cause of the crash.

According to Major, the foreign pilot was familiar with the area having regularly flown within The Bahamas and the region as a frequent visitor.

Last November, Bahamian pilot Byron Ferguson crashed in waters off western New Providence.

He was never found, though some wreckage of the six-seater Piper Aztec was recovered weeks after the crash.

The AAID investigation in the crash is ongoing.

Due diligence and unfamiliarity

“The majority of these incidents involving ‘N’ or U.S. registered aircraft; that’s because a lot of the pilots are mostly weekend pilots or private pilots that just want to jet off to The Bahamas for the weekend and most of them are not familiar with the territory; familiar with the airspace; the runways and they get into situations where they can’t control, and end up in accidents or incidents happening,” Major said.

“We’ve seen the majority of the cases that we have investigated over the last three years mostly involve private pilots, weekend pilots and most of them have N-registered aircraft with U.S. licenses.”

Speaking to the causes of the majority of incidents, Major said there are regulations in place, but there has been a lack in too many cases of due diligence on the part of foreign pilots.

“If you are flying to another island, another country or another state, you are required to get all of the information available on that particular airport you are going to – the runway length and width; any obstructions in the area.

“So, there are already regulations that tell a pilot what he or she should or shouldn’t do, however, the pilots still choose not to do it for whatever reason.”

When asked whether the two dozen air occurrences last year and the 27 occurrences in 2017 were high for The Bahamas, Major said the figure is believed to high.

He pointed out that The Bahamas experiences more air traffic by foreign pilots due to its proximity to the United States in comparison to more southern countries.