RBDF scales back search, recovery efforts for pilot, plane

NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) Commander Shone Pinder said yesterday that while search and recovery efforts are ongoing for a six-seater aircraft that crashed in waters off New Providence on November 8, those efforts were not being conducted at the same “pace that existed a few days ago”.

“Right now, we are continuing our search and recovery efforts, however, what we have done is we have pretty much allowed for our surface craft that are patrolling the area to maintain a lookout for anything that may be telltale signs that [could] assist the Air Accident Investigation [Department] as it relates to any debris or any other significant finds,” Pinder told Eyewitness News.

He confirmed that divers were not sent into the water yesterday, and he was unable to say when the next scheduled dive search would take place.

“I don’t know and I can’t say… for how long the actual [search] — this stage — will continue,” Pinder said. “The commander of the [Royal Bahamas] Defence Force will give his directives concerning that as it relates to ongoing efforts. Our search continues, but certainly not at the pace that existed a few days ago, but we are continuing to maintain our vigilant lookout for that craft.”

When asked whether the search has been scaled back, Pinder said, “Right; the only difference is that we did not conduct the dive operations today, but we still have two thirds of our assets, in terms of the modes of our search; in terms of the use of our mobile patrols along the shoreline — that continues — and of course the surface craft that continues to traverse the seas. The only thing missing really is the dive component and you know dives day-to-day are based on weather conditions and the light, but that didn’t happen today.”

Missing pilot Byron Ferguson and the U.S. registered Piper Aztec aircraft went down in waters two nautical miles from the airfield at Lynden Pindling International Airport.

Ferguson was en route from West Palm Beach, Florida.

He was expected to join his family to travel to Africa in celebration of his father’s birthday.

Yesterday, Pinder said until there is an order to suspend, search and recovery efforts will continue in earnest.

Bryon’s mother, Agnes Ferguson, a retired veteran ZNS news anchor, posted on Sunday, “Simply waiting for Captain Byron Quinn Ferguson’s return to tell his own story, and invoke real change in the country’s aviation industry.”

The Ferguson family and volunteers have continued to search for Byron and the aircraft.

Nearly two weeks ago, volunteers and civilian divers found parts of a wrecked plane believed to be from the crash.

A GoFundMe page in Bryon’s name was launched on November 17 to hire certified deep-sea divers, and specialized deep-sea dive equipment. To date, $25,000 has been raised.

According to the GoFundMe page, a certified diver who was recently flown in via private charter located more debris using specialized equipment and mixed gases in order to dive the edge of the ocean in the area where volunteers found the plane debris.

“Volunteer groups have pulled their resources to assist in the search, rescue and recovery of Byron’s aircraft and there is still hope of locating Byron,” read the post on the online fundraising site.

“Currently the plane is in over 600 feet of water. We are in need of specialized equipment and certified deep-sea divers who are able to assist with recovery. Some debris has been located in shallow areas, however the debris trail leads to the edge of the ocean. In order to dive or investigate at this depth special equipment needs to be brought in to assist with the efforts of locating the fuselage.”

In the days following the crash, there was widespread criticisms of the Defence Force’s search and rescue efforts.

Last week, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said a full review of the protocols, procedures and agencies involved in the crash search and recovery efforts will be conducted.