Second aircraft runs off Caribbean runway
BERT WILKINSON Special to the AmNews | 8/3/2011, 3:40 p.m.
A Caribbean Airlines flight from New York to Guyana ran out of runway space last Saturday, ending up in an area just short of a deep ravine, but like the American Airlines Aircraft that skidded off the Norman Manley Airport runway in Jamaica 18 months ago, there was not a single fatality among the 163 passengers on board.
CA flight 523 made a single stop in neighboring Trinidad before arriving at Cheddi Jagan International Airport just after 1:30 a.m. on Saturday. It apparently used up too much of the 7,400-foot runway on landing and ended up on a dirt road nearly 200 yards from the aerodrome.
While Guyanese authorities and those dear to the three dozen injured passengers were celebrating life rather than mourning loss, those in Trinidad and at Caribbean Airlines, formerly BWIA, are counting their lucky stars that the airline's safety record for fatalities remains intact.
The carrier, the largest in the English-speaking Caribbean, has been operating for nearly 70 years without any major accidents apart from the one last weekend. It recently took over money-losing Air Jamaica.
Authorities have asked the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board to take charge of the investigation into the crash. The agency has complied by sending an eight-person team to the site. Seattle-based aircraft manufacturer Boeing Corp. has also sent in a crew to conduct its own probe, but the crash has left everyone taking about how miraculous it was that no one died.
The relatively new B737-800 aircraft broke in two when it ended up in the grass. One taxi driver, who was among the first to speed to the scene, incredibly charged Philadelphia-based Guyana native Geeta Ramsingh $20 for the ride to the terminal building. "You don't charge people to be rescued in an emergency," she said, pointing to her bloody knees as she jumped off the plane's wing onto the ground in total darkness.
Eighteen months ago, the region was forced to cope with a disaster of a similar kind when American Airlines flight 331 from Miami to Kingston overshot the runway. The plane, a similar B737-800 aircraft, also broke in two just near the area where first class is separated from economy class. A total of 150 passengers were on board. Forty-four were hospitalized then, compared to 35 in Guyana.
Guyanese aviation chief Zulfikar Mohamed said the probe will continue for several days, "but we will not have anything positive to tell people for a while."
The crash has exposed the limitations of the country's main airport and has pressured authorities into speeding up work on installing a new instrument landing system that would guide pilots to within 200 feet of a runway.
Observers also complained about the absence of mobile field lights to illuminate the crash site, pointing to the fact that none arrived until more than an hour later, leaving rescuers to either grope in the dark or use flashlights or vehicle beam lights. That will be corrected, officials say.