[Bahamas] 'Truck Burned For More Than An Hour' With Three Inside
PACO NUNEZ, Tribune News Editor
Friday, April 5, 2013
[Mayaguana Island, Bahamas]
HAVING stood by helpless and in horror as the bodies of three of their neighbours burned for more than an hour, Mayaguanans are blaming yesterday’s plane crash disaster on years of government neglect.
Minister of Transport and Aviation Glenys Hanna-Martin inspects the burned vehicle. Photo: Chester Robards/Tribune Staff
Landing gear from the Cessna 402 that collided with the truck is seen here near the rear of the burned wreckage. Photo: Chester Robards/Tribune Staff
The second vehicle, in which the mother, sister and brother-in-law of former MP Sidney Collie sat, burst into flames. Dying in the explosion were Mrs Edith Collie, Mrs Enamay Polowick and her Canadian husband, Tim Polowick.
With no fire engine on the island, the airport’s extinguishers inoperative, and no source of water nearby, their neighbours could do nothing to help them.
“The people were burning for more than an hour,” said Iris Charlton who was about 50 yards away from the victim’s car. “We couldn’t do anything about it.
“Everyone was in shock, people were screaming and wailing, but there is no fire truck and the fire extinguishers at the airport didn’t work.”
Husband, father and father-in-law of the victims, Stanley Collie said he could not recognise his wife, Edith, as only her skull was left after the fire.
“All of my wife face burn up,” he said. “I said smile. She couldn’t smile because it was only bones. That is something to take deep in your heart.” The cars were driven by locals who came out to help with the emergency airlift by using their headlights to illuminate the runway, which is not equipped with lights.
Another witness, Audrey Charlton, said the fire was so hot that for a long time, no one could even approach the burning truck.
“There were so many persons at that airport, but it was like our hands were tied,” she said. “It was like a scene out of a movie, I couldn’t believe what happening.”
Ms Charlton said she knew the victims very well, as did most people in the close-knit community.
The only good thing about the ordeal, she said, was that the victims must have died instantly in the explosion.
“People are pissed off, we are angry because of the runway,” said Mayaguana Administrator Anton Moss.
“There is no excuse for this. It should have been fixed a long time ago. We should not have had to lose lives to have attention brought to this.”
He said as the plane touched down, a wing clipped one of the cars, causing the aircraft to spin out of control, another wing smashing into the victims’ truck.
“The fuel tank in that portion of the wing exploded, engulfing the vehicle in flames,” Mr Moss said.
“It‘s a small community, so it‘s a tragedy for everyone and Mayaguanans are spread around so people are sad all around the country.
“All we want to come out of this is that the runway gets fixed. But it should not have come to this,” he said.
Mr Moss, who said he inherited the shabby runway when he became administrator, explained that because of the problem, Bahamasair has actually stopped flying to the island. Instead, the government organised charter flights with LeAir Charter Service, which owns the Cessna C402 that crashed yesterday.
“We thank them as far as that goes, but enough now, the runway has to be fixed and Bahamasair has to come back,” he said.
According to eyewitness Audrey Charlton, the runway, already in urgent need of replacement, has been a construction site for the last two or three years.
She explained that under the first Christie Administration, international developer the I-Group started to work on the airstrip as part of its joint-venture resort project on the island.
However, she said, work came to a halt when the FNM government renegotiated the agreement, having expressed concern that too much land was granted to the developer under the original deal.
The majority of the runway has been cordoned off ever since, with only a short section in use. Then, several weeks ago, work started up under the I-Group, but stopped again about six weeks ago after engineers expressed some “concerns” about how it was progressing, Ms Charlton said. Nothing has happened since.
She blamed successive governments for all aspects of the disaster – the state of the runway, the lack of a local fire department, the broken fire extinguishers.
“They always tell us its a lack of money, but it’s an airport. You’re talking about people’s lives here. The longer you take to fix it, the bigger the risk.
“This was an accident waiting to happen,” she said.
Minister of Transport and Aviation Glenys Hanna-Martin said yesterday that the government will not allow Mayaguana’s airport to remain in its current state.
She said emergency lights will be ordered for the airport immediately.
Speaking on the incident yesterday, Commissioner of Police Ellison Greenslade said the vehicle that was clipped by the plane “unfortunately was much too near to the runway.”
Explaining that a full investigation has been launched, Mr Greenslade said: “I wish at the outset to proffer, on behalf of all of us, our sincerest condolences to the families of the deceased – people who are decent outstanding citizens of our country, who are well known to us and who have given an excellent account of their stewardship while they were here with us on this earth.”
Leading the team of investigators is Assistant Commissioner Steven Seymour, whom Mr Greenslade described as “a very decorated and competent senior officer who is fully in tune with what is necessary in the circumstances”.
Joining him are two experts from the Civil Aviation Department along with support staff.
They flew to the island at 10am yesterday.