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Hopes of survivors dim as wreckage found

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Tuesday November 21, 2006 – 6 am

The search has resumed this morning though hopes have dimmed about finding survivors of the SVG Air flight that vanished Sunday after rescuers found wreckage last evening.

A piece of the fuselage believed to be that of the missing aircraft, a five-seater Aero Commander 500S, was located between St Vincent and Bequia according to the St Vincent and the Grenadines Coastguard.

At the time of its disappearance there were two people on board – the pilot, Dominic Gonsalves, and American Eagle Manager on Canouan, Rasheed Imbrahim.

The discovery by search and rescue crews from St Vincent, Barbados, Martinique, and Trinidad came hours after Prime Minister, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, said that the “circumstances are such that one has to prepare for the worse”.

Meantime a team of investigators 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.

Director of Airports, Corsel 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 is unclear who raised the alarm but the local coastguard along with other boats started a search around Bequia.

“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 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.”

After being alerted Sunday night the local coast guard, pleasure and fishing boats searched the waters between Bequia and St Vincent. Early Monday morning the Barbados-based Regional Security System sent its aircraft to join the search. The French Rescue Service from Martinique also sent an aircraft and just after midday an aircraft Trinidad and Tobago Air Guard as well as a helicopter from the island’s anti-crime unit joined the search. The wreckage was located late Monday. Venezuela is expected to join the search today.

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