Category: LIAT


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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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While it is not completely unheard of, commercial air carriers crashing in the Caribbean is a relatively rare occurrence. However, people around the Caribbean are waking up this morning to the news that a plane carrying one hundred and sixty-two persons, inclusive of  8 crew members, came down amid torrential rains in Guyana at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport .

The crash happened about 1:30 am some three hours after its scheduled landing. The Caribbean Airlines craft broke in two after it shot past the runway because it couldn’t stop.

No lives were lost, although there were some resulting injuries such as the pilot’s broken leg.

Almost every year it is safe to say that the summer will not be complete without a commercial aircraft falling out of the sky somewhere in the world. I think that is so because the summer months are the unofficial “fly a plane” season. There have been reports from various aviation officials that often times pilots are overworked, and some even admitted falling asleep while thousands of miles above the earth.

In fact, the Air France plane that crashed in the Atlantic ocean in June 2009, just three hours into its eleven hour flight from Brazil to Paris, was at the time without its senior pilot in the cockpit. That is what the data recovered from the black boxes reveal. The captain had gone back in the cabin to sleep, apparently.

Readers of Ashford Daniel Writes will recall that I recently posted entries that dealt with  Caribbean Airlines and how its Trinidad government is greatly subsidizing its fuel for it to have a comparative advantage in the evolving Caribbean market; but even with a government hand out the Trinidad public was still grasping the available flights being offered by Redjet. Redjet is soon to commence operations to Trinidad and Tobago.

With the crash now of a Caribbean Airlines aircraft, exactly what impact will that have on the future demands for seats on Redjet and on Caribbean Airlines?

Officials in Trinidad will hold a press conference later this morning on this breaking news.

I had to come back with this quick follow-up post because our older folks told us to strike the iron while the anvil is hot. A former Caribbean diplomat, Sir Ronald Sanders, writing in the Caribbean 360 online newspaper today has echoed some sentiments that made me look carefully to ensure it wasn’t my writing. I guess brilliant minds think alike. *_*

One of the revelations that Sir Ronald makes is that the very high prices charged for our beloved LIAT‘s tickets are dual mostly to the high government taxes. This is sad and shows the pervading colonial type mentality in terms of economic provisions still reigning among our leaders. Can you imagine that LIAT pays such regularly high landing fees and still our governments are charging the consumers and traveling public so much heavy-duty taxes on their tickets. Some of us, on all of this, still has to pay a departure tax to leave our own island home!

How much longer will our Caribbean citizens be held as hostages for myopic government aviation policies?

In his article as well, Sir Ronald analyses on the political wrestling match that has been going on between Redjet and its opposing countries of Jamaica and Trinidad. I am sharing a direct quote from the article. It is particularly important because as a Vincentian I must be concerned about the level of respect shown (or not shown) to my country and its leader.
Here, now, is the quote:

“What is even worse, at no time was St Vincent Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves brought into the wounding discussions over permitting Redjet to fly – and he is the person in the CARICOM quasi-cabinet with responsibility for overseeing air transportation. Redjet may have been given permission to fly to Trinidad and Jamaica thereby adding to their Guyana route, but that is only a battle, a real war is yet to come unless good sense infects the thinking of CARICOM’s leadership and a sensible aviation policy is established taking account of both commercial realities and public good.”

I could not have put it any better myself!

I believe that it is up to the citizens of the region to arise, just like the Barbados Prime Minister, and say enough is enough. It is from Sir Ronald Sanders article today that I am learning that Jamaica and Trinidad have been in discussions aimed at having the government of Trinidad and its carrier Caribbean Airlines (CAL) buy over the Jamaican airline Air Jamaica.

It also seems that the Trinidad government is subsidizing the fuel of CAL so as to give it a comparative advantage; however, even Trinidadians are running headlong to Redjet because they are booking seats faster than the spreading of a fire along a dried hillside.

I’d like to recommend Sir Ronald’s article and so I’m including its link here:

http://www.caribbean360.com/index.php/opinion/479569.html#axzz1SlaGq6w8

Are Trinidad and Jamaica afraid that Redjet is too hot to handle?

Redjet is the newest air carrier to come on stream in the Caribbean. It is a business venture originating from the island of Barbados where its investors are attempting to provide comparatively low fares to the region’s air destinations. I used the word “attempt” just now because it seems that some Caribbean heads of government want Redjet to become an aerospace abortion.

Granted, while I think that Redjet counted its chickens before they were hatched by announcing scheduled start dates for commercial flights into Trinidad and Jamaica before apparently following protocol applications, the unflinchingly critical opposition that these two countries meted to the airline has not given a favourable impression of Caricom or Caribbean unity.

Even if there were issues that needed clarifying the parties involved could have settled their differences privately and discretely.

I am tired of the constant blockading of new airlines trying to get access to the Caribbean skies; especially so when the traveling public can get a much-needed rebate on ticket price. As it is now, especially for those of us who are hostages of LIAT, air fares really instil air fears into persons who have no choice but to fly.

However, I want to big up the Prime Minister of Barbados who put his two feet down on the matter a few weeks ago.

The Prime Minister said that he is basically hurt and feels betrayed by his Trinidad and Tobago’s equal because Barbados approved the licenses of the Trinidad and Tobago carrier, Caribbean Airlines without even thinking twice, but Trinidad has been like a nagging woman complaining about unmet safety issues.

The Barbados Head bluntly stated that he can play the same game that Trinidad is playing. And I was glad to hear this. I was looking forward to a subsequent announcement out of Barbados that Caribbean airlines’ license has been revoked.

I mean the issues that obstruct Caribbean unity are so infinitesimal and irrelevant that we must begin to call them for the bull s*** that they are!

And that’s exactly true you know. Not too long after Barbados said enough is enough, both Jamaica and Trinidad announced almost on cue that approval has been iven to Redjet to begin commercial flights into their respective countries.

Imagine! It takes threats to activate the mechanisms of progress in my Caribbean. I wonder if my Caribbean citizens are paying attention? Caribbean people, the Arab world has sent a message of the democratic reality: governments must do what the people want–not what they see as politically astute.

But the saga is not quit finished as yet because Redjet has no confirmation as to exactly when its low-cost wheels will be touching down in Jamaica or Trinidad.

You know, I can’t help but wonder how come the government of St Vincent and the Grenadines has not given a statement of its position on the Redject issue?

Like Redjet is burning them up?

For years Vincentians have had only one air carrier to transport them in and out of St Vincent and the Grenadines. While it is true that other regional islands have their share of limited air access, the market is beginning to open. But not quick enough.

I am not a very frequent traveller but on every occasion I have had to use the service of LIAT there has always been something that made the flight less than enjoyable. At age  seven, the very first time I set foot on an aeroplane, I had to camp out at Piarco International. Years later, I have had to endure other misadventures with our national airline.

I recall trying to depart SVG a couple of years ago when I turned up excitedly to board a flight. It was a Friday and I was thrilled to be given time off and was looking forward to flying free as a bird when one of the immigration oifficers asked me (now this is like 6am), “Are you sure you want to go in as yet?” When I enquired it turned out that the pilots were on strike.

I felt the gods were against me. I mean, here am I, a spasmodic flyer, and the pilots chose my day to strike! What are the odds?

To make a long story short, instead of leaving SV on Friday first flight, I never left until 1 pm on Saturday!

Within more recent times,  after arriving in the land of the flying fish for my scheduled appointment at the US embassy, lo and behold, no luggage. LIAT workers on the ground there were –you guessed it–on strike. And you know that was the only hitch in an otherwise royal travel experience?

On another occasion our Vincentian contingent was waiting for our flight at St Georges. From looking at the itinerary of flights posted, I realized that our particular flight was not listed at all. All other passengers were taken by their on-time flights and soon we alone occupied the departure lounge.

Upon making inquiries after our departure time had long past, the officials told us that they had no information about our flight! About 20 minutes later they used the PA to tell us that the flight was delayed. Just that. It was delayed.

But my greatest adventure with LIAT has been what was supposed to be a one day visit to the Bamboo in TNT. I was so naively confident in my airline that I walked with no luggage whatsoever. I mean after all,  Im confirmed on the last flight in, right?

Several hours later, the Vincy contingent realized we were not hearing anything. We waited. Other passengers were departing. We waited. The departure area was dwindling in its population. We waited. But what is this at all?

Then a sigh of relief. Guess what? A PA is made for all Vincentians to report to the announcer’s booth. There we were told that our flight turned back in mid-air due to technical issues.

It was then I saw what that old commercial was trying to say with its catch phrase: “Don’t let hunger happen to you.”

Eventually we are taken to a hotel. It was like after 11pm, after checking in about 530 pm. Early the next morning I’m up. Took a shower, and took off my expensive gold ring as a precaution, and in my haste to get to the airport at 4 am I forgot all about the ring.

Fasten your seatbelts for the next part. I recall feeling pleased to be the first on board this larger LIAT craft that had the name St Vincent and the Grenadines etched along its side. It was 530 am. Fine weather. Happy on-board conversations.

At take off the female captain announced that we will take passengers in Grenada in about half hour. After about 40 minutes we started to wonder what about Grenada. The captain soon announced that the Grenada stop had been cancelled.

Better yet we thought. We will get to SVG faster. I recall seeing the lovely cotton candy clouds and looking at Union Island.

Then came the captain’s voice. We had to go back to Grenada.

Again, I saw the effects of hunger and delayed home-coming.

Now, we were told we’d be staying on the ground in Grenada for just 10 minutes. We touched down there at exactly 6:50 am. When we took off it was 7:30 am.

I never heard so many bad words and expletives aboard an aircraft. Even the flight attendant and captain were visibly and orally upset.

When we did land at ET Joshua, almost every Vincentian echoed the sentiments that they will never ride LIAT again.

I felt that way, too, but what choice did we have?

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