As the search continues for Byron Ferguson, 34, the pilot of a six-seater aircraft that went down into the sea a quarter of a mile off Nirvana Beach six days ago, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis on Tuesday encouraged relatives to continue to hold out hope.
“I’m sorry of such an incident and I would not want to say that individual is presently not alive,” said Minnis, when prompted about the ongoing search for the father of two following a tour of the Fusion Superplex complex.
“You always live with hope, so I would hope that the family would themselves live with hope.
I hope everything works out for them. My prayer will always be with them that everything works out for them.”
Asked about the family’s criticisms of the handling of search and rescue efforts, Minnis declined to comment and pointed out that the investigation is ongoing.
“It’s an ongoing procedure and I would not want to comment on it at this time,” he said
According to authorities, Air Traffic Control reported that it lost radar contact with the Piper Aztec aircraft around 9:03 p.m., shortly after the pilot reported he was experiencing difficulties.
Ferguson was en route from West Palm Beach, Florida.
According to relatives, he was returning to New Providence to travel with his parents to South Africa in celebration of his father’s birthday.
Family members raised concerns on Sunday over the handling of the search and rescue effort and have questioned why parts of the aircraft spotted Thursday night could not be located the next morning.
In a separate interview, Minister of National Security Marvin Dames said while responders spotted a “piece of the aircraft” Thursday night, that part disappeared from sight as the search and rescue teams got closer.
Authorities initially reported that parts of the aircraft had been located during the search and rescue effort, which was suspended around midnight until Friday morning.
When divers returned to the same coordinates, however, those parts were not in the same position and believed to have shifted, according to authorities.
“…I’ve been told when they (responders) were approaching, a little piece of the aircraft could have been seen,” said Dames outside the Churchill Building.
“As they got closer the aircraft disappeared, so we have to be extremely careful when we say aircraft. We give the impression that here’s this big aircraft that they saw lying on the water.
“That is not so. So, we have to leave it up to the search team and the investigators to let them do their jobs and not muddle what they’re doing with non-factual information.
He continued, “As I speak to you, the only thing I am thinking about is the family and what they are going through, and me having to be very careful as to what I say, so as not to further exacerbate a very, very, very sensitive situation.
“And so, our hearts go out to the family. I know a few of them and we will continue to do whatever we can to ensure that we work to bring some closure to this matter.”
Relatives also questioned why divers were not sent into the water until Friday morning, but Dames assured the response was swift and extensive.
He said the Royal Bahamas Defence Force has capable, world-class divers, but during a search and rescue effort there are variables that can impact when and how authorities proceed.
The ongoing search for the aircraft and missing pilot has been expanded, according to officials.
“I just want to say this that those teams out there have been working tirelessly,” Dames said.
“And always remember that search and rescue — when teams are out there and they are working — the first area of focus is the protection of life. And so, you are trying to preserve or trying to protect the life of those who may have been involved in the incident, but we have to always be cognizant that we also have to ensure —the first responders that is and this is no different anywhere the world over — that they too preserve their lives.”
Dames added that he has been in constant communication with RBDF Commodore Tellis Bethel and Police Commissioner Anthony Ferguson since the incident.
He said, “The police and civil aviation and others continue to play their respective roles until we are able to make some determination as to what are the next steps.”