Retired army officer Captain Gerry Gouveia yesterday testified that he suspected he transported Gregory Smith to Kwakwani, a day after the latter allegedly engineered a bomb blast that killed Dr. Walter Rodney but he said he never saw the need to investigate.
Gouveia has long been said to be the pilot who transported Smith to the Berbice River location from where he was transported to French Guiana.
Smith, a former soldier who is now deceased, is the main suspect in Rodney’s death after it was reported that he had given him a walkie-talkie that later exploded on June 13, 1980.
Gouveia, now an aviation and hospitality businessman, was subpoenaed to appear before the commission of inquiry into Rodney’s death and give evidence. The commission granted his attorney Devindra Kissoon permission to lead him in his evidence-in-chief, when he took the stand yesterday at a public hearing at the Supreme Court Law Library.
He detailed his education up to the point of him becoming a pilot in 1977. He joined the Guyana National Service at the age of 20 before pursuing flight training on a government scholarship. On completion of the course, he joined the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) as a cadet officer as part of the arrangement and after serving for 12 years he resigned voluntarily in 1988.
He told the commission that at that time he was a pilot and as is the standard protocol he would log each flight.
Asked about the events of June 14, 1980, Gouveia said that when he got to work, he was given a flight programme by the operations staff. At the time he was a pilot based at Camp Stephenson, Timehri and he held the rank of Second Lieutenant after three years in the GDF.
He said that he remembered there was a man, a woman and some children standing in the hangar. “I was instructed that these people were to be flown to Kwakwani,” he said. He said that while it was the operations staff who would have given those instructions, he cannot remember the identities of those people.
Video – Part 1
He told the commission that the passengers disembarked and he started the aircraft again at 10 am, which would have meant that the aircraft was at Kwakwani for three minutes before taking off again. He said that there was a fence around the runway and that he could not recall if anyone was waiting on the passengers.
According to Gouveia, from the time he left Timehri to the time that the passengers disembarked his plane, he had no conversations with them and if he were to see them today, “I cannot say I will recognise them.” He said that based on the protocol, it was not unusual for pilots not to have conversations with passengers.
He said there was no unusual behaviour displayed by the passengers. “I cannot recall having any kind of concerns or noticing any anomalies that would cause me concern,” he said.
Video – Part 2
He recalled that a couple of days after the trip he saw a picture in the newspaper of a person described as Gregory Smith. “When I saw that pic I felt that the person in the newspaper looked like the man that was on my plane. I cannot recall which newspaper I saw the picture in,” he said, adding that he knew for sure that was indeed the man.
Gouveia stated that because of his junior rank at the time, he never saw the need to probe his suspicion. He was later shown a picture in a book but said that while it looked like the man on the plane that was not the picture he saw. He said that the photograph was taken from a more frontal view.
He said that he had no interest in checking back the passenger list.
Gouveia added that he could not recall reading the article that accompanied the photo but knew that he had read the story regarding Rodney’s brother, Donald, who had been with him when the walkie-talkie exploded. According to him, when he read that article, it left a lot of open questions about what had really transpired. “His (Donald) account was extremely unimpressive from where I sat,” Gouveia said.
He later explained that after reading the interview, he was struck by why Dr. Rodney, an intellect and the leader of a political movement, would take his brother with him in the middle of the night into a back road. He said that based on what he had read about the events of June 13, 1980, he wasn’t impressed that a man of Dr. Rodney’s intelligence did not know how to test a walkie-talkie. He said that one tests a walkie-talkie with words and not with a red light.
Air corps involvement
During questioning by the attorney for Donald Rodney, Keith Scotland, Gouveia said that the flight on June 14, 1980 was a priority flight and that it is no longer an assumption that Smith was on that plane.
Gouveia acknowledged that there was no investigation by the army in relation to the transport of Smith and the police never contacted him to give a statement on the issue.
Video – Part 3
Gouveia told the commission that he would say that it was the army air corps that assisted Smith from Timehri to Kwakwani and added that he doesn’t know where the commanding officer would have gotten the instruction. The army air corps, he said was then and is still is part of the State.
Cross-examined by Andrew Pilgrim, lawyer for the Rodney family, Gouveia rejected the assertion that on June 17 he transported someone looking like Smith. Despite being presented with two eyewitness statements, he rejected that he returned to Kwakwani on June 14, 1980 in the GDF registered aircraft.
Based on his recollection, he said on June 14, 1980, the first flight was from Timehri to Kwakwani. He said that he started the engine at 9:08 am and landed at 9:57 am. After then, he made two other trips, he recalled. A book, which was identified as Gouveia’s personal log book, was presented to the commission. He said that it was the original copy and that the records were not changed in any way.
Video – Part 4
He explained that the log had information, such as what time the aircraft’s engine was turned off, the time it landed, type of aircraft, the pilot in command and the airplane registration information. He maintained that his logs were accurate and added that every six months the book had to be lodged with civil aviation. He said that it was also stamped every month.
He said that besides his personal log book, there was one for the aircraft and the records there should match the ones in the control tower. He was, however, unaware of where the records for the aircraft and control tower are being kept.
According to Gouveia, the aircraft book would have nothing to do with the purpose of the mission neither would his personal book. There is a passenger’s manifest that is filled out for each flight.
Gouveia said that today he has no regrets for his actions. He said that he felt a sense of duty to be before the commission to tell the truth. He later stressed that he is now standing before the commission as his obligation and that he never felt any obligation or duty to come forward with what he knew.
He returns to the stand today.