Guyana Moves to Deal with Airport Squatters This Week
BERT WILKINSON Special to the AmNews | 8/10/2011, 1:29 p.m.
A multi-agency team, including Guyanese airport and housing ministry officials, will meet sometime this week to draw up a plan to remove dozens of squatters' homes after a Caribbean Airlines flight that ran off the airport's main runway on July 30 and broke in two ended up just yards from one of the homes.
Airport Chief Executive Officer Ramesh Ghir said this week that the removal or relocation of the about 300 homes with about 1,000 residents has now become a main priority for authorities. The homes are built on land belonging to the Cheddi Jagan Airport Authority that has long been identified for runway and other expansion.
Flight BW 523 from New York and Trinidad had 163 passengers and crew aboard when it ended up on a dirt road after the Boeing 737-800 aircraft apparently landed too far along the runway and did not have enough pavement to make a safe stop. Ghir said the situation could have been worse, and officials are not waiting for it to happen again.
"They are not only a security risk but also a safety risk, as is evident in this crash. Had the aircraft gone a little more to the left, it might have ended up in the houses. So there's a safety risk for those who live in that area," he said, suggesting that the meeting may be held closer to the weekend.
Some of the homes are brand new while others were built more than a decade ago. Still others are in varying stages of construction.
Investigators, including an eight-man team from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, are probing the crash but all indications so far point to errors by the crew as the reason for the accident. The plane appears to have landed too far down the runway and run out of braking space.
Facts established so far point only to very light rainfall just minutes before the crash. Visibility was about five miles at the time. None of the 163 passengers lost their lives, but New Yorker Noel Elliot, who had traveled home for his first wedding anniversary, had to have his leg amputated at a Brooklyn hospital.
Meanwhile, a Guyanese taxi driver who allegedly demanded $20 in payment from injured passenger Geeta Ramsingh of Philadelphia has had his authorization to operate suspended pending the outcome of an investigation into his conduct. Ghir said, "We have not been able to really conduct any detailed investigation. We're trying to gather evidence and as we listen to passengers, we are taking that information."