Thursday, December 04, 2014

Cessna 208 Caravan, V3-HHU, Tropic Air: Incident occurred December 04, 2014 at Belize City Municipal Airport (TZA)

Nigel Carter

Civil Aviation Department defends record after plane crash 

The Department of Civil Aviation today observed International Civil Aviation Day in honor of the 70th anniversary of the International Civil Aviation Organization’s founding.

 It comes on the heels of yesterday’s crash of Tropic Air Flight 281 off the coast of Belize City as it prepared to land.

As they honored past and present contributors to the industry, Chief Operations Officer in the DCA Nigel Carter told us that Belize’s travel record, both domestic and international, has never been safer.

Flight 281 was the first major accident of 2014, which saw more than 290,000 flights, both domestic and international, take off from Belizean airspace.

The Department conducts regular inspections and monitors the inspections of the major airlines of aircraft and personnel.

Meanwhile, authorities ranging from Police to the Coast Guard to the Airports Authority to Civil Aviation and the Fire Service are investigating, but the Department is not prepared at this time to go beyond the facts.

Carter told us that the purpose of the investigation is merely to establish what happen, and unless any gross negligence is found, it will not be punitive in nature.

Carter confirmed that the Cessna 208 Caravan was almost new and had just been added to the Tropic fleet.

Previous incidents involving both major carriers did not rise to the status of accident and so were not widely reported.

On Thursday evening we spoke with two witnesses to the wet end of Flight 281.

Area resident David Choe did not see the plane fall but observed the slick of aviation fuel released into the sea.

He relayed his concerns that if the fuel was left unattended it might cause a fire if put into contact with a flame source.

Police meanwhile have confirmed that the single-engine aircraft began experiencing engine problems and was unable to decelerate while trying to land.

Attempts were made to shut off the plane engine, however, the momentum caused the plane to overrun the airstrip and end up in the sea.

Two passengers suffered minor injuries, while another was a man from San Pedro Town who had been shot in the leg during a robbery on the island and was being flown to the City for treatment.

The investigation is ongoing at this hour but we can tell you that the plane while lifted out of the sea is now practically useless, having broken up on landing.

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Nigel Carter, CEO, Department of Civil Aviation

At around two thirty Thursday afternoon a Tropic Air Cessna Grand Caravan, inbound from San Pedro, crash landed at the Municipal Airstrip in Belize City and then ran off the runway into the bordering sea. There were five passengers on but all escaped unharmed. Directors of Tropic Air immediately blamed the slick conditions of the runway, which they claim is too narrow and too short. But there have also been persistent reports of engine failure as the cause of the accident because it couldn’t reduce velocity. A police report issued today says that (Quote) “on arrival at Municipal Airstrip about two-fifteen p.m. the plane began experiencing engine problems and was unable to decelerate.  Attempts were made to shut off the plane engine, however, the momentum caused the plane to overrun the airstrip and ended up in the sea.”  (Unquote)  The Department of Civil Aviation is in charge of the investigation at this point, but they are not offering any concrete information, saying only that the aircraft could not come to a stop within the length of the runway. Today C.E.O. in the Department Nigel Carter told News Five that while any accident is regrettable, the safety record in Belize remains stellar.

Nigel Carter

“We know that incidents and accidents happen from time to time. This year alone Belize is projected to have three hundred thousand flight operations. We believe that of the three hundred thousand flight operations if we do have an accident it is definitely regrettable, but our safety record remains up there with any first world country.”


“We know that tropic air has grown exponentially, faster than any other airline in Belize. Have they grown too fast to keep up with a proper regimen of maintenance, safety and training?”

Nigel Carter

“Well we know that Tropic Air has grown. They’ve expanded their routes and so forth, but we do regulate that growth. With reference to the introduction of any new aircraft to the fleet or any new route, we conduct extensive reviews and testing of the changes that are made to the system. So we can say that we have done our due diligence to ensure that the company has grown and been compliant with standards.”

Carter was unable to provide any clarification of recent reports of other accidents involving Tropic Air planes, since he says the current legislation indicates that any information on accidents must be released by the Minister in charge of Civil Aviation.



John Greif III, President, Tropic Air
Tropic Air: The Airline of Belize 

A press release from Tropic Air has issued information this afternoon that one of its aircraft ran off the runway in Belize City Municipal Airport and landed a few feet away in shallow waters. 

On Thursday December 4, at approximately 2:20 PM Tropic Air flight #281 was going from  San Pedro to Belize City Municipal and upon landing went off the runway and into the water. There were five passengers and a pilot on board; no injuries incurred.

Ambergris Today received information that one of the passengers onboard the plane was Carlos Najera, who was just injured in a shooting incident in San Pedro, an hour before. Najera was being transported to Belize City after he was shot on the leg while he attempted to apprehend a robber coming out of a local store in downtown San Pedro, Ambergris Caye.

Luckily Najera and the other passengers were not injured in the accident and Najera was transported to the city hospital as arrangements had been made for an ambulance to pick him up. Investigations continue as to the cause of the plane accident.

Story, Comments and Photo Gallery:

A single engine Tropic Air plane left San Pedro this afternoon and crash landed on arrival at the Belize Municipal Airport. 

While the pilot was able to land the plane, he could not bring it to a complete stop and the aircraft came to rest in the nearby sea. 

The incident is attributed to the slick conditions of the runway.

On board were five passengers, including a shooting victim who was being transported to the K.H.M.H. 

All escaped unscathed, but the aircraft is being deemed inoperable, a loss of four million dollars. 

News Five’s Isani Cayetano was at the municipal airport immediately after the plane crash landed. He files the following report.

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

A domestic flight to Belize City, inbound from San Pedro this afternoon, crash landed at the Municipal Airstrip shortly after two o’clock, when it slid off the runway upon touchdown.  Onboard the single engine aircraft were five passengers, including Carlos Najera who had been shot during an early-afternoon robbery on the island.  According to John Greif the Third, President of Tropic Air, the commuter plane careened off the slick runway due to unstable weather conditions we have been experiencing since the beginning of the week.

Via phone: John Greif III, President, Tropic Air

“Today, December fourth, at approximately 2:20 p.m. our flight number two-eighty-one was en route from San Pedro to the Belize Municipal Airstrip.  As you know, the weather has been bad all over the country so the runway was rain soaked.  The pilot landed and was unable to stop the aircraft and it ran off into the shallow water at the east end of the runway.”

Fortunately, the pilot and his passengers escaped the accident unscathed.  The aircraft, however, became waterlogged almost immediately; its prop and wings jutting out from the shoals.  Moments later, authorities converged on the scene.

Via Phone: John Greif III

“We are investigating, along with Civil Aviation, what happened.  But our primary concern is the wellbeing of our crew; in this case it was one pilot and our five passengers.  And one of the passengers was medevaced from San Pedro, we had actually delayed that flight and moved it around a little bit to try to get a gunshot victim off the island.  So our primary concern is for the safety of our crew and our passengers but nevertheless we continue to try to determine exactly what happened.”

Isani Cayetano
“Were there any injuries reported as a result of this incident?”

Via Phone: John Greif III
“No.  Neither, we had everyone taken to the hospital and ironically three of the people were going to the hospital anyway.  So there were no injuries reported or otherwise.  They literally were no injuries.’

While it may be too early to determine the full extent of damages, Greif says the aircraft has been declared inoperable.

Via Phone: John Greif III

“Visually it is not very damaged but anytime an aircraft gets immersed in saltwater it’s useless so it won’t be able to be reused.”

Isani Cayetano: Can you speak to us about some of the safety precautions that can be taken by pilots in cases like these where the weather is one of the forces acting against a successful landing?

Via Phone: John Greif III

“Good question.  We take safety and training very seriously here at Tropic.  I don’t know if you remember, we reported it to the news about a year ago.  We bought a caravan simulator so we have in our office in San Pedro a device that exactly mimics the inside of the caravan.  It has ten or twelve flat screen TVs that mimic the look of the outside of the airplane so much so that when you’re taxiing in San Pedro you can see our terminal building from the San Pedro airstrip and everything.  And all of our pilots spend several hours a month going through recurrent training, weather training, instrument training and all that.  So we take the safety aspect of it very, very seriously.”

The primary issue, according to the experienced aviator, is the location and size of the airstrip itself.  Despite ongoing work to expand the facility, landing in Belize City is somewhat dangerous.

Via Phone: John Greif III
“The problem with the Municipal Airstrip is, I’ve been in aviation in Belize for over forty years.  I started flying here when I was fifteen and the Municipal Airstrip is simply too short, it’s too narrow and it’s surrounded by water on all three sides.  The government is expanding and lengthening it but it’s just taking forever to get that done.  So in my opinion, the primary enhancement to aviation safety in Belize would be to finally finish with the Municipal Airstrip.”

Isani Cayetano
“In terms of an estimated dollar amount, can you give us the value of the aircraft that has been damaged?”

Via Phone: John Greif III

“Sure.  It’s four million dollars.”

An investigation led by the Civil Aviation Department, as well as Tropic Air remains ongoing. Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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