Aerial searches yesterday failed to yield any sign of the US-registered plane that disappeared on Saturday, with two Americans and a Canadian onboard who were conducting geophysical surveys for a Canadian mining company in the Cuyuni area.
The aircraft, a Beech King Air, last made contact with the Control Tower at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, Timehri at 3:06pm on Saturday to report that they were commencing normal operations over the survey area. On board were pilot, Captain James Wesley Barker, 28, and First Officer Chris Paris, 23, both US citizens and Canadian Patrick Murphy, a Geophysics technician.
Intermittent bad weather yesterday hampered the search for several hours. Guyana Defence Force (GDF) Air-Corp and Special Forces are leading the search operation with two British helicopters also involved along with five other planes.
The Beech King Air, N87V, was chartered from Dynamic Aviation Inc. by Terraquest Ltd to conduct geophysical surveys on behalf of Prometheus Resources (Guyana) Inc. The survey area is in the west sector of Guyana in the vicinity of Chi Chi, Region Seven (Cuyuni/Mazaruni).
A release from the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) last night said that the aircraft departed Timehri at 2:14pm Saturday and last reported over the survey area commencing normal operations at 3:06pm. No further reports were received from the aircraft.
The GCAA said that search protocols were activated and the Rescue Coordination Centre became operational. “Air Traffic Control alerted other aircraft in the vicinity to try to establish contact with the Beechcraft but this was unsuccessful”, the release said. The US MCC Southern Command was also contacted for any reports of emergency distress signals emanating from the area but none was received.
The aviation authority said that due to the terrain and weather in the area it was not possible to commence a night search so arrangements were put in place to commence the search and operation early yesterday. The search operation is being coordinated by the Air Navigation Services of the GCAA with the GDF Air Corps and Special Forces conducting the actual search using their aircraft along with two British helicopters currently involved in training with the GDF.”These aircraft are supported by two aircraft chartered by GCAA from Air Services Limited and two private aircraft operated by Mr. Bernard Singh and GAMAS respectively”, the statement said adding that another aircraft currently engaged in similar geophysical survey and operated by Mc Par Geophysics is also assisting in the search operation.
Imbaimadai in Region Seven has been established as the field base for the operation with fuel and equipment flown there. The GCAA said that the aircraft were in the area conducting a systematic search of the survey area but no positive information was received. Due to low cloud coverage, the agency said, the aircraft were forced to land at Imbaimadai and remained on the ground for a while with operations recommencing at 3 pm yesterday, following which some of the aircraft returned to Timehri and Ogle.
However, the two British helicopters remained there checking with villagers for any information pertaining to the missing plane while “some aircraft will remain in the general area overnight and will recommence operations in the morning”, according to the GCAA.
Earlier yesterday, Director of Civil Aviation, Zulficar Mohamed had told Stabroek News that the GDF-led search party had not spotted the plane and due to the bad weather during parts of yesterday the search party had to wait some hours. Mohamed said that members of the party went into villages with the aim of garnering information.
A press release from the police on Saturday evening had said that the twin-engine aircraft, which is white in colour with red stripes, had departed Timehri to conduct a survey in the Cuyuni area just after 2pm on Saturday and was expected to return at around 6:15 the said day, but failed to do so.
Prometheus Resources (Guyana) Inc is a subsidiary of the Toronto-based U308 Corporation, whose Vice-President, Nancy Chan-Palmateer confirmed to this newspaper that they had contracted Terraquest Ltd to do a geophysical survey in Guyana. While she confirmed that three persons were on board the aircraft she was unable to give any further details.
According to Terraquest Ltd’s website the company specializes in airborne geophysical surveys, geophysical consulting, data interpretation, enhancement and modeling.
Meanwhile, U308 Corporation is described on its website as a Canadian junior mineral exploration company based in Toronto, Canada. The company said that it is currently focused on uranium exploration in Guyana with its primary business objective being to acquire and explore, with the intent of developing, mineral resource properties.
It said that, to date, its subsidiary, Prometheus Resources (Guyana) Inc, has been granted two Reconnaissance Permits, the CM Permit (Permit A) and the PMCR Permit (Permit B), by the Guyana Geological and Mines Commission (GGMC) to conduct geological and geophysical surveys on adjacent lands covering an area of approximately 1.33 million hectares in Western Guyana.
“The CM Permit (Permit A) provides Prometheus Resources Guyana Inc. with the right to occupy the CM Area for three years commencing November 28th, 2005 in order to conduct geological and geophysical surveys for radioactive minerals and rare earth elements, which include uranium,” the company said on its website.
It said that Permit A grants the company the right to apply for, and be granted by the GGMC, “up to 15 prospecting licenses (each consisting of areas of approximately 202 hectares to approximately 4,856 hectares) for radioactive minerals and rare earth elements, provided that it has satisfied the requirements of the Permit and the GGMC.”
And as for Permit B it gives the company the right to “occupy the PMCR Area for three years commencing May 31, 2006 in order to conduct geological and geophysical surveys for radioactive minerals and rare earth elements, which include uranium.”
This permit gives the company “the right to apply for, and be granted by the GGMC, up to 20 prospecting licences (each consisting of areas of approximately 4,856 hectares) for radioactive minerals and rare earth elements, provided that it has satisfied the requirements of the Permit and the GGMC.”
Many aviation incidents, including the April 25 crash near Kopinang in Region Eight last year have raised the issue of Guyana not having proper search and rescue facilities.