Category: Air Travel


MH17 as captured by a passenger who died when it was shot down just 3 hours after this picture was taken

MH17 as captured by a passenger who died when it was shot down just 3 hours after this picture was taken

 

This summer is not yet  over but the world has witnessed the loss of hundreds of lives from plane tragedies within a short space of time. Malaysia Airlines has been particularly unlucky in this regard since two of its fifteen large airplanes have been involved. On March 8th, Malasia flight MH370 just vanished into thin air and has not been heard or seen since, despite the massively expensive international search that was done for it. Then, just as passengers thought it was safe to continue flying with Malaysia Airlines, their MH17 flight was allegedly blown out of the sky by a BUK surface-to-air missile over Ukraine on Thursday July 17, 2014.

Both of these flights were carrying more than 200 persons. In fact, MH17 is said to have a confirmed passenger list of 298 persons. Although it is widely accepted that flying is the safest means of  traveling, such incidents make you stop and wonder.

Apart from these two instances involving Malaysia Airlines, there were two other plane crashes. In fact they happened on two consecutive days. So, all in all, there were three plane crashes in one week. Each of them being quite deadly. A plane crashed while trying to land on a small island after leaving Taiwan. Of the fifty four or so persons on board, approximately forty six of them died.

The very next day, a plane carrying one hundred and six passengers crashed after leaving Ouagadougou Bakina Faso in West Africa.  It had tried to fly around some bad weather, possibly sand storms as it was crossing the Sahara desert. From the scene of the crash site officials concluded that no one lived through that.

Flying is a luxury that is worth the money invested in each ticket, but it is also a situation where each passenger volunteers to board a potential coffin. For as soon as flight attendants close that door from the inside, it is not going to open again until the plane lands. And all things must go smoothly for a plane to land and come to a  complete stop.

All of these incidents are plane tragedies and have affected many families. But the alleged shooting down of MH17 is particularly hard to accept simply because it is a tragedy that humans could have prevented. One mournful mother told about how one of her two sons who died aboard MH17 had ran back from the immigration to tell her that he loved her. He then asked a puzzling question. “What happens when the plane crash and I die?”

That mother would give anything to turn back the hands of time.

But what’s done is done.That plane with just under three hundred persons on board was flying at 33 000 feet. Because missiles can explode near their targets, it is relatively safe to assume that some passengers were alive after the plane broke up due to the explosion. Some passengers might also have been asleep, which is customary on long flights. This plane crashed three hours into an eleven hour flight.

Talk about your worst nightmare! Can you imagine what it feels like to see and feel your plane suddenly and noisily break apart? The wind suddenly knocks out your breath even as you try to scream. And while you are coming to terms with that horror you realize you have a worse situation because now you start to fall to the ground.

Persons who visited the large crash area spoke of seeing some passengers still in their seats with the seat-belts buckled. Others saw passengers who had no clothes on because as they were falling the air would have been such unrelenting force that it blew their holiday clothing right off. One report spoke of how sixteen passengers had broken into eighty seven pieces and their body parts were scattered all over the crash site.

There were babies falling from the sky. There were teenagers and young adults who became like Superman, only that gravity was their deadly kryptonite. There were elderly persons who fell from the clouds and hit the ground with such deadly force that their skeletons disintegrated.

Certainly, those who were asleep were the lucky ones. And those whose weak hearts gave out before they hit the unwelcoming ground were perhaps lucky as well. While the sufferings of the passengers and crew may have ended, it was just the first installment in a horror saga for their relatives and friends.

Dead bodies stayed in the sun for three days. Luggage and personal items, especially valuables, were stolen from the dead passengers. Bodies started to rot and to stink in the hot July sun. No country felt it as much as the Netherlands of whom 154 passengers were its citizens.

Planes continue to fly every hour but every time that door closes before take-off it is almost certain that every passenger would be wondering if they will see when it opens next.

 

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Please note: It’s now 30 Years.

Today marks exactly twenty-five (25) years since Vincentians at home and abroad were plunged into their most horrifically tragic air disaster in the history of commercial air flight in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

It was on August 3, 1986, that LIAT flight 319 disappeared while attempting to land at the Arnos Vale airport (now renamed The ET Joshua Airport). While all incidents that result in loss of lives are tragic, the untimely deaths of the thirteen souls on board were particularly stinging to all sections of the Vincentian society. That single flight not only  combined a unique mix of some of the most progressive nation builders in our country at the time, but also brought  grief to our regional and international territorial relatives.

Quite possibly the first face that comes to the minds of those of us who were around twenty-five years ago and now recall that stormy Sunday night, is that of Donna Young. Donna epitomized the youthful beauty, charm, female empowerment and potential of St Vincent and the Grenadines. Donna was a bank worker, employed with Barclay’s bank. She had just turned age twenty and was coming back from a holiday trip to America. Donna had won the Miss SVG and Miss Carival shows right here at home in St Vincent in the year 1984. Donna Young also held the Miss OECS title as well. Her smile lit up the stage like no other. One could not help but love Donna Young. To fully appreciate the connection that the Vincentian public had with Donna Young, think of her as the late Princess Diana of the UK or of President John F. Kennedy (JFK) of the United States of America.. Indeed, Donna was our own Vincentian Princess. She was royal.

Donna Young

Donna Young

Also on that ill-fated flight was a watchmaker who was physically challenged. Imagine a gentleman in his wheel chair and is out and about daily taking orders and repairing watches. That was the fortitude of Robert Fraser, who was born with no legs. Disability was never going to be his inability! Robert Fraser was on the flight, coming back home from a seminar in St Lucia that focused on persons like himself who could not walk or had other physical challenges.

IMG_20140804_122553Then there was a family of husband, wife and eight-year-old son who perished that August night. Again, it is expected that everybody’s death will be mourned, but, alas, this was not the average Vincentian family. At just seven years into its political independence from Great Britain, St Vincent and the Grenadines was unfortunate to lose its political opposition leader and two members of his family. Hudson Tannis, along with his wife and son, Ordway,  were returning from a wedding in St Lucia and happened to be aboard  flight 319. Hudson Tannis was also the former Deputy Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines during the Labour Party government of Milton Cato.

The Grenadines also felt the loss of lives because a native of Bequia, a female passenger listed as Alida Ollivierre, was returning home for her friend’s wedding. She was actually traveling on flight 319 with the bridegroom, Rufus Nelson, a Dominican.

Other passengers on the doomed flight included Busta Lockhart, a Vincentian who was on his way back from cutting cane in Canada. Another Vincentian passenger on board was Ruth Babb. The remaining passengers were two Italians. So, of the  thirteen persons on the plane, eight of them were Vincentians.

L-R: Hudson Tannis, his son Ordway, and his wife, Christine Tannis

L-R: Hudson Tannis, his son Ordway, and his wife, Christine Tannis

The aircraft was being piloted by two pilots, Phillip Roach of Guyana and Keith Hobbins of Jamaica. It has been said that the pilot captaining the flight, although he had been to SVG before, was now doing so as the pilot in command. Apparently, he had an idea where the runway was. Unfortunately, owing to the mountainous terrain of the country, the airport is right next to the Caribbean Sea. Because of the rainfall that night, the place was foggy. Visibility would have been extremely poor. Later, residents of Cane Garden will say that they heard the aircraft circling and then the sound of a sputtering engine. Liat flight 319 aborted the first landing attempt. It was during the second landing attempt that the plane disappeared.

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For days and weeks after, all able-bodied man, woman and child, took to the sea and shore to do what they could to find any signs of remains. Apart from a sighting of some floating oil, the remnants of that plane was never to be seen again. At least up to this day. It is said that the waters in the Grenadines are among some of the deepest in the hemisphere, measuring between 180 to 1000 feet. Along with our local coast guard, there were other coast guard ships from Caribbean countries such as Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Venezeula, and Barbados.

In addition to all those boat searches, The Trinidad and Tobago government sent a helicopter, and the USA sent an aeroplane to participate in an aerial search and rescue effort.

The following weekend one of the largest and most sombre memorial services was held at the Victoria Park, where everybody who is anybody in St Vincent turned out to sympathize with a grieving nation. Saturday August 9, 1986, and Sunday August 10, were declared official days of mourning and flags were flown at half mast across the country.

Prime Minister of SVG, James Mitchell, at the memorial service for flight 319 passengers at the Victoria Park on Sunday August 10, 1986

Prime Minister of SVG, James Mitchell, at the memorial service for flight 319 passengers at the Victoria Park on Sunday August 10, 1986

This is the last recorded air mishap that LIAT has had which had a direct impact on Vincentians.

I hope that our younger generation will at least take a moment today and pause in reflection of the wealth of human and Vincentian potential that we all lost that night. One cannot help but feel that somehow our lives in St Vincent would have been that much richer as a result of the contributions made by the “unlucky 13” of LIAT flight 319, back on August 3, 1986.

May their souls enjoy eternal bliss.

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