July 31, 2014

We didn’t find anything to say it was or wasn’t a meteorite – Coastguard

The St Vincent and the Grenadines Coastguard has called off an investigation into an object seen hurtling through the sky last Thursday night over Bequia – classifying the event as that of an “unidentified flying object.”{{more}}

On Thursday, July 24, between 7 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., several residents in Bequia, Mustique and mainland St Vincent witnessed an object on fire moving rapidly through the sky, – which whipped social media into a frenzy with rumours of it being a downed aircraft.

This was ruled out when Air Traffic Control confirmed with local and regional operators that all scheduled flights were accounted for, and a search conducted by the Coastguard did not turn up any wreckage or debris.

Lieutenant Ralphie Ragguette, of the SVG Coastguard, said: “We had to terminate the investigation because the search was futile. It’s an alleged meteorite… we didn’t find anything to say whether or not it was.”

Trish King-Ollivierre, a teacher from Bequia, said that she and her family witnessed the event, and were “startled” because the object had passed so close overhead.

“It was a huge flame that lit up the sky – biggest ‘shooting star’ I have ever seen!” exclaimed the Mount Pleasant resident. “We see a lot of ‘shooting stars’, but nothing like what we saw that night.”

She explained that as the object sped by, she heard two “explosive sounds,” but did not recall hearing any noises to indicate that the object had made impact with land or water.

Director of Airports Corsel Robertson said that after confirming that no flights were missing, her first suspicion was that the object was a meteorite, but that, to date, this is “unconfirmed.”

“I’m very happy it wasn’t an aircraft!” she said, with relief.

Robertson did, however, explain that it is possible for an aircraft to crash in Vincentian territory without any local or regional operators knowing about its scheduled flight path.

“There can be an occasion where the public can witness the crash of an aircraft that the aviation authorities cannot confirm,” she stated.

Mindful to point out that such an occurrence is not down to authorities being “neglectful,” Robertson added that many international operators travel at heights far above Vincentian airspace. Should any of their aircraft encounter difficulty, it can fall and crash in our territory, but there would be no local or regional documentation of its schedule.

Robertson explained that in the event of a confirmed plane crash at sea, the Coastguard and the SVG Royal Police Force would be the first two authorities to be dispatched to the scene. The Piarco Rescue Coordination Centre (in Trinidad) is also notified, as it is responsible for search and rescue efforts in the region. Depending on the magnitude of the incident, a rescue operation out of Martinique may also be called upon.

Robertson added: “I also [have to] notify my Permanent Secretary, the Minister, and everyone who needs to know that something has happened – including the operator of the aircraft, if that is known.”

The director of Airports further pointed out that it is important to establish facts quickly in such events because misinformation can hamper search and rescue efforts.

“People tend to fill in the blanks when there is an absence of information,” she acknowledged. “But I think it’s a matter of their concern that makes them respond like that.

“It can be a little overwhelming but you have to appreciate it.” (JSV)