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Hope fades for missing plane and passengers

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006 – 7 pm update

A second full day of searching has failed to turn up any further signs of the missing Aero Commander 500S operated by SVG Air that vanished Sunday evening.

Searchlight this morning reported that rescuers found debris yesterday and this evening this was confirmed by Director of Airports Corsel Robertson at a news conference at the ET Joshua Airport.

He said that a fisherman found some debris about two miles north-west of Bequia yesterday. The debris consisted of an unused flare kit, a seat rest, a life jacket that was not inflated and a wooden chock with the markings “SVG Air”.

The plane enroute from Canouan to St Vincent Sunday evening was last in contact with the Control Tower at the ET Joshua Airport as it was descending through 1100 feet over the western end of Bequia on its final approach to St Vincent. It was somewhere along that nine mile stretch that the plane vanished. In the last radio contact, SVG Air pilot Dominic Gonsalves reported seeing a Dash-8 aircraft in front of him. Robertson also reported that a LIAT aircraft reporting sighting the five-seater aircraft.

There was no distress call.

Also onboard was the American Eagle Manager on Canouan, Rasheed Imbrahim.

Tomorrow, an investigator team from the Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority (ECCAA) is scheduled to arrive tomorrow to start the probe into the disappearance of the aircraft. The Air Traffic Controllers who were on duty at the time the plane disappeared have been suspended.

Robertson, said that the plane, with registration number J8 VAX, left Canouan, on what should have been a 13-minute flight, at 6:42 pm Sunday. Four minutes later it contacted the Control Tower at the ET Joshua Airport which instructed the pilot that when he was passing the island of Bequia that he should again contact them. That he did at 6:51 pm to say that he was descending through 1100 feet and would be landing in four minutes.

It never arrived but the alarm was not raised until nearly three hours later. It was Nisha Da Silva, the mother of Imbrahim, who raised the alarm prompting a search and rescue operation to be launched by the local coastguard.

“The circumstances surrounding the delay are being investigated and the officers on duty at the time communication was lost with the aircraft have been relieved of their duties pending the outcome of the investigation,” said Robertson.

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves said an appropriate investigation would be conducted and would include circumstances “in respect of the aircraft coming out of the sky and also after the aircraft was down did the Tower respond in a manner which was in the best proficient and professional tradition and whether we mounted our search and rescue in the most efficacious way.”

Trinidad had a helicopter and a fixed wing aircraft in the search yesterday while Venezuela provided a helicopter today. An aircraft from the Barbados-based Regional Security System (RSS) remained in the search today which continued to be coordinated by the Vincentian coastguard.

The French Rescue Service has returned to Martinique.

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