Tag Archive: 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.

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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