A United States-registered aeroplane crashed into a home at the Sparendaam Housing Scheme shortly after takeoff from the Ogle International Airport yesterday killing the American pilot and a Canadian surveyor who was conducting a technical survey for the Amaila Falls access road.
Video: After the crash (warning contains explicit language)
The crash of the fuel-laden twin-engine N27-FT Piper Aztec plane which exploded on impact at about 3pm yesterday was the worst in several years and initial reports point to engine failure as a probable cause of the crash. “It took off with six hours of fuel from Ogle and it looks like it lost an engine and then crashed,” Minister of Transport, Robeson Benn told reporters on the scene.
The names of the deceased were not released up to news time last night and officials said that relatives and the embassy here would first have to be notified. Stabroek News was told that the deceased are two relatively young men. The Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) has opened an investigation and Benn said that the plane was an American registered N27-FT Piper Aztec plane that was on a technical survey mission for the Amaila Falls access road. A LIDAR survey was being done to determine the best geometrics and other alignments for the road, the minister said.
An internet search revealed that the aircraft was registered to Angiel EnviroSafe Inc which is based in Miami, Florida. Calls to the number listed for the company were directed to a voicemail system.
Director General of the GCAA, Zulfikar Mohammed told reporters that the plane was in Guyana for about a week and had flown prior to the crash. It had already surveyed one stretch of the road earlier yesterday and was returning to assess another stretch when tragedy struck.
Veteran pilot, Gerry Gouveia suggested that engine failure might have played a role in the crash. “My own staff said they heard the change of engine sound which kind of signify that there might have been an engine failure, but we don’t know,” he said. Gouveia ‒ the owner of Roraima Airways – said that a crash like this is rare. “This is a twin engine aircraft and it’s meant to fly with one engine. It’s meant to, if one engine fails, the other one, it should fly,” he said.
Video: Cpt. Gerry Gouveia on the Scene
The plane crashed into the Lot 78 Graham Street, Sparendaam Housing Scheme home owned by 69-year-old Florence Dyer-Tyndall. The visibly shocked woman told reporters that she was in her three bedroom wooden home preparing for church when she heard a loud boom. She said that she did not think it was anything serious since she is accustomed to hearing planes pass by her home. However, she said that she then felt her house move and this caused her to run outside. As she scampered out, she saw her house on fire. Dyer-Tyndall and three other persons occupied the home.
Eyewitness Stephon Barry said that he was working in another yard when he heard a “funny sound” which was that of the plane’s engine. He recalled that when he looked up, he saw the plane coming down and as it did; its engines were “backfiring” and eventually cut out. The aircraft first hit a coconut tree, snapping it in half, before crashing into the home. Barry said that it appeared as though the pilot was attempting to land on the playfield nearby but could not make it and crashed into the house.
Video: Eyewitness Stephon Barry
The man said that soon after the plane crashed, several explosions were heard followed by fire. The house then collapsed and became engulfed in flames. Barry said that they managed to save a gas stove, a washing machine and fridge from the house. They also began to soak the houses nearby with water to prevent them from burning.
Another wooden building nearby, owned by Michelle Bell, was badly damaged by the flames. Her brother, Joseph Stewart said that he was dropping off some relatives at the home when he heard the loud roar of the plane’s engine. Bell’s house is a few feet away from Dyer-Tyndall’s home.
Stewart was in his car and said that he saw a shadow over him. “I wanted to know if the day had turned to night,” the distressed man ‒ who said that he had yet to come to grips with the situation ‒ related. He said that that aircraft was so low that had he not moved, the wheels of the plane would have caught on the top of his car. He said that the aircraft exploded immediately after it crashed. “It was very quick,” Stewart related.
Bell and the children who were in the home, quickly fled. She suffered an injury to her foot and although she could walk, was taken in an ambulance for treatment. Relatives reported that in the melee that ensued following the crash, two laptop computers as well as some other items were stolen.
Meantime, when asked whether the plane was hired by the government or subcontracted, Benn stated that it was subcontracted but declined to reveal the name of the company.
Mohammed said that they will be going through the crash site, look at what is available and take first hand information from observers for the investigation. He also said that they have to retrieve the engine, which will have to be properly examined, to determine if it was part of the cause of the accident.
Firemen from the Guyana Fire Service responded promptly and managed to contain the blaze. When Stabroek News arrived at the scene a large crowd had already gathered at the site. Up to late yesterday afternoon, investigators had not retrieved the bodies of the two men.
Gouveia told reporters that “the pilot seems to have lost control of the aircraft…” He said that such crashes are rare and as it was a twin engine aircraft, it should have been able to fly with one engine had the other failed. “So what we need to find is why didn’t it fly, why the pilots were not able to take it back to Ogle,” he said.
The veteran pilot said that Ogle is one of the safest airports and has all the navigation aids “so there is no reason this airplane should not have make it back into Ogle.” He said that the engines will have to be examined during the investigation.
There have been several incidents with aircraft over the years, but crashes involving fatalities are infrequent. A similar incident occurred on November 8, 2003 when a Trans Guyana Airways Skyvan crashed shortly after takeoff from Ogle. The right engine failed to perform even after takeoff and two persons were killed in this accident while one crew member received injuries.
A more recent incident in November 2008 involved the disappearance of a plane with two Americans and a Canadian on board. The plane has never been found. Americans James Wesley Barker, 28, and Chris Paris, 23, the Captain and First Officer, respectively, along with Canadian Patrick Murphy, a geophysics technician were on board the plane.
Video: More scenes from the aftermath
The aircraft was chartered from Dynamic Aviation Inc by Terraquest Ltd to conduct geophysical surveys on behalf of Prometheus Resources (Guyana) Inc, a subsidiary of the Toronto-based U3O8 Corporation. The aircraft was scheduled to operate in the Chi Chi – Imbaimadai area located in Cuyuni and following four hours, thirty minutes in the area it was expected to return to the Cheddi Jagan International Airport. It never did and a search operation involving several local aircraft as well as British army helicopters failed to find any sign of the missing plane and the government later said that the trio was presumed dead.