Fri | Sep 21, 2018

Search intensifies - Jamaica, US teams comb the sea off the coast of Portland but fail to find downed plane

Published:Sunday | September 7, 2014 | 12:00 AM
A Jamaica Defence Force helicopter flies over the Port Antonio marina pier in Portland yesterday, as the Jamaica and US coast guards search for the missing plane that crashed at sea on Friday. - Norman Grindley/Chief Photographer
US personnel (from left) Pauline Kastner, Elizabeth Martinez, chargé d'affaires, and Robert Piehel as they made their way to an emergency press conference on the crashed aircraft at Jamaica House yesterday. - Norman Grindley/Chief Photographer

A long, gruelling day of searching by members of a team from the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF), the Marine Police and the United States (US) Coast Guard ended yesterday without success, as the TBM900 aircraft that crashed off the coast of Portland on Friday remained buried in the sea.

Early-morning hopes that the aircraft would be found were sparked by reports from the JDF Air Wing that debris believed to be from the aircraft had been spotted and photographed. The debris field was spotted in an area about 24 nautical miles north of Port Antonio.

"While it is not yet possible to confirm that the debris sighted is from the missing TBM900, our pilots are very confident that the sighting is consistent with that of a high-impact debris field, and this has since been corroborated by a C130 aircraft involved in the operation," said the JDF in an early-morning release.

Still no luck

But by late afternoon, Lieutenant Commander Judy-Ann Neal, operations officer at the JDF Coast Guard, told reporters gathered at the marina in Port Antonio, Portland, that there was no luck, even though the local team was assisted by US Coast Guard cutter Bernard Weber, which arrived on the scene at 2:00 yesterday morning.

"No search could have been conducted then, but the official search started at daybreak," said Neal.

"Our two surface assets are still out there searching, the US Coast Guard cutter is still out there, a helicopter was also launched and has been conducting a search in the area, but nothing was found. No further evidence or debris from the wreckage has been observed from the surface assets from neither local nor overseas that have been deployed to the search area," added Neal.

Later at Jamaica House, head of the JDF Coast Guard, Antonette Wemyss-Gorman, declined to say for how long the Jamaican authorities are prepared to continue before calling off the search, which is slated to resume early this morning.

However director general of the Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority, Leroy Lindsay, said there has been an offer from overseas to assist Jamaican agencies with recovering the wreck if it proves too challenging for Jamaica.

"The depth we expect where the aircraft went in is something round about 2,000 metres, really deep, and we might not have the asset to deal with that in Jamaica. The French have volunteered that they will assist, should we need equipment to go to those depths to help us with the discovery of the aircraft," said Lindsay.

He said a lead investigating team is to be assembled to carry out a probe after the recovery effort is done.

A search-and-rescue operation resumed at first light yesterday as crews tried to solve the mystery of a small private plane carrying a prominent upstate New York couple who were taken on a ghostly 1,700-mile journey after the pilot was apparently incapacitated at the controls.

The single-engine turboprop Socata TBM900 was carrying Rochester real estate developer Laurence Glazer and his entrepreneur wife, Jane — both experienced pilots.

Unresponsive aircraft

Last Friday, US fighter pilots were launched to shadow the unresponsive aircraft; they observed the pilot slumped over and its windows frosting over. Officials say the plane slammed into the sea at least 22 kilometres (14 miles) off Jamaica's northeast coastline.

In a statement last Friday, the US Coast Guard 7th District command centre in Miami said three people were reportedly on-board the plane.

The plane's pilot had indicated there was a problem and twice asked to descend to a lower altitude before permission was granted by an air traffic controller, according to a recording of the radio conversation. Radio contact with the plane was lost a short time later.

The single-engine plane took off at 8:45 a.m. Friday from the Greater Rochester International Airport in New York en route to Naples, Florida. Air traffic controllers were last able to contact the pilot at 10 a.m., the US Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement.