Sea, shoreline search for pilot continues

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More airplane debris recovered Sunday

NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Three rounds of search dives led by Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) marines on Sunday marked day 10 of search and recovery efforts for pilot Byron Ferguson.

Ferguson’s twin engine aircraft crashed in waters off the western tip of New Providence on Nov. 8, but only pieces of his plane has since been recovered.

RBDF officials held a press conference late Sunday afternoon to update media on search and recovery efforts. The update came 48 hours after RBDF officials were quizzed by media last week Friday after authorities failed to provide up-to-the-minute information to media until one week after the crash.

On Sunday, however, the RBDF’s  Lieutenant Commander Derrick Ferguson said due to weather constraints [and] bad weather, they were unable to conduct any dive operations on Saturday.

“We had divers out there on location waiting for an opportunity for the bad weather to break [on Saturday]; however, we were unable to do any dive operations Saturday,” Ferguson said.

But as weather conditions cleared on Sunday, Ferguson confirmed that divers went to work, and at least one dozen RBDF marines participated in those search efforts.

“We commenced our search efforts at 6:00 a.m. Sunday, both RBDF divers and Royal Bahamas Police Force divers. We continued to search extensively to the East of the area of the crash site where we initially located the tail.”

Ferguson revealed that divers recovered debris at depths of 80 to 216 ft.

“So far what we have recovered is small debris. We are unable to say exactly what parts of the plane they are, but that is something that Air Accident Investigation Department officials will have to confirm.”

Ferguson suspected that additional – and possibly more crucial – debris had fallen off of an underwater shelf which extends hundreds of feet below the sea surface.

While divers continued search efforts at sea on Sunday, Shon Pinder, RBDF Commander revealed that shoreline efforts have begun as well.

“The purpose of that is to see if anything of interest would have washed up that might be associated with the airplane and have that all tagged as evidence for all investigation teams,” Pinder said.

Commander Pinder confirmed that search efforts for Sunday would culminate at sunset and recommence at daybreak today [Monday].

Authorities are still uncertain of when they will discontinue search and recovery efforts.

“We don’t have a definitive date at this time,” Pinder said. “It’s a comprehensive effort and a deliberate approach and we hope that it continues to reveal positive results.”

Meanwhile, following one week of silence, the top brass of the RBDF broke its silence last Friday concerning their search and recovery efforts for pilot Byron Ferguson.

The press conference came on the heels of 18 civilian divers, who decided to take search and rescue efforts into their own hands last week Wednesday, and successfully recovered parts of Ferguson’s aircraft.

The civilian team reportedly found the debris just 600 feet away from the original crash site; 80 feet below the sea surface.

The discovery sparked a social media outrage over authorities’ handling of the investigation.

Friday’s press conference provided media with the opportunity to hear exactly what efforts RBDF marines executed in their search for Ferguson, and also opened the door for many concerns to be tabled and addressed.

Shon Pinder, Commander, RBDF addressed why search and rescue efforts were suspended after only four hours of searching.

“Vessels that responded were not necessarily on full tanks,” Pinder said.

“At some point after they would have exhausted their supply, four hours into the search; and after having to make preparation for divers to do a more extensive search, the search efforts were shut down.

“In an area where there was little to no visibility; we made every effort not to compromise the safety of those conducting the search.”

It was at this point that the search operation was shut down; media and Ferguson’s family members were escorted off Nirvana Beach.

The search, which commended shortly after 9:00 p.m., on Nov. 8, suspended sometime after 1:00 a.m.

Pinder revealed that RBDF marines returned at daybreak Friday.

Another bone of contention was raised regarding the failure of authorities to secure aircraft debris which was spotted on the night of the accident.

“No efforts were made to secure what was presumed to be the tail of the aircraft that night,” revealed Commodore Tellis Bethel at Friday’s press conference.

“Our priority right then and there was to look for persons who may have been alive in the water.”

Five days after the crash, authorities extended the search to a 300 square mile radius.

“Our divers were now beginning to find debris that came from that plane wreckage,” Derrick Ferguson, Commander, RDBF said.

Authorities said the debris was very small and asserted that its fragile imposition made it nearly impossible to retrieve it from the sea bed.

The RDBF reportedly did not inform Ferguson’s family nor the media of its discovery.

Commodore Bethel admitted that this was a grave misstep in the investigation process.

“I agree with you that we should have been communicating to the general public as to what was taking place,” he said.

“We got so involved in searching for life; so we spent a lot of time focusing on that.”

Two days after RBDF divers allegedly found small debris from Ferguson’s aircraft, civilian divers managed to recover even larger portions of the plane. Marines reportedly returned to the exact site of the civilian discovery Thursday evening and recovered more debris.

RBDF divers reportedly recommended search and recovery efforts Friday and recovered additional debris.

Commodore Bethel revealed on Friday that the RBDF made attempts to meet with Ferguson’s family to update them on their recent findings.

Ferguson’s relatives declined to meet with authorities, according to Commodore Bethel.