A Fly Jamaica plane destined for Toronto, Canada crash-landed at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) at Timehri early yesterday morning, leaving the crew and passengers shaken but without any confirmed serious injuries.
Preliminary investigations have found that Fly Jamaica’s Boeing 757 aircraft encountered hydraulic issues shortly after takeoff.
In a brief statement, Fly Jamaica Airways Chairman Captain Ronald Reece said the 118 passengers and 8 crewmembers were safe. “We are providing local assistance and will release further information as soon as it is available,” the statement added.
Minister of Public Infrastructure Minister David Patterson said the Fly Jamaica flight OJ 257, which had been en route to Toronto, Canada had taken off from the CJIA at 2.10 am.
However, at 2.21 am, the pilot and co-pilot, both of whom are Jamaican, indicated that there were some hydraulic problems and requested permission to return. It was noted that permission was granted and after spending an estimated 43 minutes in the air they were able to land the plane.
The aircraft, however, overshot the open runway and veered to a closed section, resulting in damage to the right wing and propeller. The plane was immediate evacuated afterward.
Speaking at a press conference held yesterday morning at the airport, Patterson said that an official investigation has been launched, which will be headed by Aircraft Accident Investigator at the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) Paula McAdam, who will be assisted by inspectors from the authority.
Jamaica’s aviation authorities have also been informed and have since indicated their willingness to give any assistance and support that is necessary. Fly Jamaica is based in Jamaica.
Additionally, Patterson said the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in the US has been notified, and an accredited representative has been designated to assist with the investigation.
Meanwhile, Director-General of the GCAA Lt. Col (Ret’d) Egbert Field said that at the time of the press conference, they had not yet interviewed the pilots and were not able to divulge any further information on what may have occurred.
He reported that the Flight Data Recorder and the Cockpit Voice recorder, both of which are important elements to the investigation, have been secured and will be sent off to the NTSB shortly for decoding.
“There is a process for decoding. The flight data recorder is a lot easier to deal with when it comes to decoding; the cockpit recorder takes a little more time and that is why I said this investigation will take a little more time… we will try to get the black box out as soon as possible and we will do this either by FedEx or UPS; we will look to see if we send it out, if not today, tomorrow but to get it to the NTSB by Monday,” the Director-General said.
When asked about whether the plane had undergone maintenance recently, Field said they have not yet reached that stage of the investigation as yet. “This investigation will take some time and I ask that you bear with us as we go through it. An investigation is mainly to see what caused the accident, it is not to cast blame on anyone but it is used so that we and the global industry can utilise this for future safety elements which can be employed,” he emphasised.
Field also explained that the plane will be handed over to its operators for removal once all necessary photographs and measurements at the accident site have been recorded. The area was cordoned off by members of the Guyana Police Force and Guyana Defence Force to ensure the integrity of the scene.
Patterson disclosed that the Fly Jamaica plane would have ended up in an almost exact position as the Caribbean Airlines plane that had overshot the runway at Timehri and crash landed in 2011.
He noted, however, that although the section of the runway was not opened to airport traffic, the existing extension saved the plane from suffering the same fate as the CAL aircraft, which had broken into two.
“Luckily for us on this occasion, the extension was there and they were able to utilise it. Before the runway extension, they would have suffered the same consequences as CAL years ago,” Patterson said.
Ramesh Ghir, Chief Executive Officer of the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, who was also present at the press conference, explained that though the runway was reopened for operation, some flights were diverted.
“Our first outbound flight for the day was the Caribbean Airlines scheduled to depart at 5.35 am. However, we worked closely with the Civil Aviation Authority and made a determination on the opening of the aerodrome and so that aircraft was able to depart at 7:30 am. In the meantime, Caribbean Airlines took a decision to divert their incoming BW527 to Trinidad while their BW601 remained grounded,” Ghir disclosed.
Stabroek News understands that the flights were rescheduled, with the last delayed flight having been expected to arrive at 11.10 last night.
Commenting on the response by the airport to the accident, the CEO lauded his staff for what he described as an effective execution of the Standard Operating Procedures.
“Our initial response was in accordance [with] the emergency response plan which would have meant that once alerted to the possibility of an emergency, the control tower would in turn notify the fire service and the airport duty officer. So, our feedback is that the fire service responded early and were the first at the scene and then the cascade of alerting all the other agencies was done,” he shared.
In the meantime, Ghir said the airport will be lending support to Fly Jamaica and will be working closely with them on the relocation of the aircraft.
Speaking on the passengers aboard the flight were Minister within the Minis-try of Public Infrastructure Annette Ferguson and Chief Medical Officer at the Ministry of Public Health Dr. Shamdeo Persaud.
It was disclosed during the press conference that on board the aircraft were 120 passengers, including nationals from Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad, the US, Canada and Pakistan.
During the evacuation of the plane, slides were used and several persons suffered minor injuries after becoming stuck at the bottom. They were subsequently rushed to the Diamond Diagnostic Centre where they were treated and either discharged or transferred.
Persaud noted that 10 persons who suffered a variety of injuries typical to the specific measure of evacuation of the aircraft were safely removed to the hospitals.
“So far, we have five persons who are under investigation for spinal injuries and because Dia-mond Hospital at that point could not have done everything, seven were transferred to the [Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation] for further tests. There were a few persons who experienced high blood pressure; there were seven other persons who were treated at the airline by port health officers,” Dr. Persaud disclosed.
“For some of them, their medications were left on the aircraft because during the evacuation process they were not allowed to bring out their carry on, in which some of them had their medication. We did supply them with medication and we are still trying to source medication for one person who has a heart condition,” he added, while noting that health officials will monitor the results of the persons with spinal injuries.
Notwithstanding, the CMO was pleased to report that the Diamond Hospital was equipped with most of the equipment, and was able to stabilise the spines of the injured passengers with spinal boards and affix them with a safe collar while they awaited the results of x-rays and in some cases MRI and CT scans that were ordered for them.
“We were also able to locate the relatives of all except one who were taken to the hospital; the nurses were still trying to make contact using the numbers provided by the passenger. We were also able to provide them with meals in addition to administering medication, likewise for the one here at the holding bay where we had the other passengers,” he added.
Meanwhile, Ferguson, who would have met with passengers yesterday morning, explained that that they were all taken to a holding facility at the CJIA, where Fly Jamaica took all information and made provisions for them to be transported to their respective homes or hotels.
She also noted that they have since been advised that few of the passengers would be accommodated on CAL flights from today.
In response to questions about counselling for passengers, the minister said though it did not come up as a priority for some of the passengers, it was still an option.