February 23, 2007
Official Report: Air traffic controller abandoned duty

An Air Traffic Controller abandoned his duty around the time that communication was lost with the SVG air aircraft that crashed 96 days ago, leaving two men dead; this is according to the official accident report.

Experienced pilot Dominic Gonsalves and his lone passenger Rasheed Ibrahim perished on the ill-fated flight.

The 17-page report, which was submitted to the Prime Minister has been made public (see pg 23), minus the recommendations of the investigators. {{more}}According to the report the air traffic controller left a cadet alone in the tower.

The report indicates that both the air traffic controller that took over from the one who abandoned his duty and the cadet reported being uncertain about the whereabouts of the SVG Air aircraft at the time of the 7 p.m. shift change.

Checks with SVG Air’s Operations Officer on duty and the Meteorological Officer proved futile and did not give clarity about the whereabouts of the aircraft that was supposed to land shortly after the LIAT flight, which landed at 6:43 p.m.

A landing time of 6:54 p.m. was however written on the flight strip (the paper strip on which aircraft movements are recorded).

The cadet is said to have reported that she assumed that the plane had landed while the previous control officer from the B-shift (12:55 p.m.- 8 p.m.) was controlling, as a result she wrote down the arrival time.

According to the Air Traffic Services Operations Manual, no air traffic control officer should go off duty without being properly relieved and should not “hand over” his watch to the cadet or any unauthorized person.

A copy of the report has also been given to the families of the ill-fated men and SVG Air.

The two air traffic personnel remain on suspension, Director of Airports Corsel Robertson told SEARCHLIGHT.

She said that she could not reveal whether or not included in the recommendation were what actions, if any, should be taken against the two but they remain suspended, with pay.

Robertson however said that if a judgment made on the matter warrants it, they could be asked to repay monies.

SVG Air owner Paul Gravel is however not yet satisfied.

“The report we received doesn’t come to any conclusion and doesn’t clearly state who is responsible for the hours that lapsed before Nicha raised an alarm,” said SVG Air owner Paul Gravel.

Gravel stressed that while no one may be to blame for what happened with the aircraft he still remains concerned about the hours between the scheduled arrival of the aircraft and when it was realized that it had in fact not landed.

The report documents the cadet on duty as saying that local air traffic control/ pilot culture at ET Joshua allows at times for aircraft to land at the field and without indicating to the tower that they have landed.

“As a result controllers at time place landing times on stamps for aircraft that they have not themselves seen land,” the report says.

“I am watching with interest to see what will happen,” Gravel said.

Meanwhile Nicha Branker, mother of Rasheed Ibrahim, the lone passenger in the plane did not want to speak much about the report.

“I have placed it all in the hands of my lawyers, they will deal with it,” Branker said.

She however said that she found the report she received to be vague.

“My lawyers will sort it all out,” said the still upset mother of the 27-year-old Ibrahim who was to be married to his now five month pregnant fiancée, Althea Davis on January 6th.

“We haven’t reached that state yet, we can’t deal with that yet,” said Nicha when asked about plans for a memorial service.

Questions were asked when the SVG Air flight out of Canouan disappeared about four minutes after indicating that it was preparing to land at the ET Joshua airport. It was Branker, who had gone to the airport to meet her son who raised an alarm when she did not see her son.

The flight left Canouan at 6:42 p.m. on November 19 with a reported three hours of fuel on board. It was at about 9:30 p.m. when the search and rescue mission, kick started by Branker’s determination, reportedly got on the way.

Over the next few weeks the Coast Guard led operation which included assistance from Venezuela, Martinique and Trinidad and Tobago among others, was in full swing. Although debris believed to be from the aircraft was recovered, there has been no sign of the two men who were on board.