Passenger aboard Tropic Air flight 9N2300 from Belize City to Roatan, Honduras, submits his accounts on what happened after the plane he was traveling in had to make an emergency crash landing offshore in the waters between Turneffe and Lighthouse Reef atolls. He hopes to clarify erroneous information given to the Belize media.
Dear Ambergris Today,
I hope this note finds you well. I am one of the three plane crash survivors from this week's incident aboard Tropic Air flight 9N2300 from Belize City to Roatán, Honduras on Tuesday, June 2nd.
Background Information: My name is Arthur Rogiérs (professionally known as "Rogiérs"). I am a native of the St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands and currently reside in Washington, D.C. I am a professional singer-songwriter, producer, recording artist, musician and educator with a 25+ year career in the entertainment industry. I had been in Belize (San Pedro) on both business and pleasure. At the time of the crash, I was ending my stay in Belize and heading to Honduras for my last day in the region before returning to the states. It had been my second trip to both Belize and San Pedro - my stay in Roatán was to be for the second time in this particular visit.
Account: I write to clarify the misreporting that has been transmitted subsequent to our airplane incident on Tuesday. This misreporting I understand has been the result of (as best I can tell) an errant account of events by the Coast Guard and a lack of updates and clarification by Tropic Air. While it is true that the Coast Guard did recover us from the widlife sanctuary and island near the crash site, the recovery did not take place twenty (20) minutes after the crash landing, nor was the recovery at the actual crash site. After surviving the crash landing ("ditching") the pilot -who ultimately pulled the two of us out of the aircraft as we had difficulties opening the passenger door as the plane was submerged and upside down- informed us that we would all need to swim to the island where the Audubon Society was stationed. This was approximately three (3) miles away from our crash site, according to the pilot himself. At this time we encountered increasingly poor weather; torrential rain and driving wind. As all three of us had no major injuries from the impact, were in good health and good swimmers (myself a former competitive swimmer and lifeguard), the pilot retrieved and inflated our safety raft. The safety raft, we mutually agreed, would be better suited to carry our belongings/suitcases/travel documents. The pilot informed us that the current would take us out to sea if we got into the raft and that if we swam with the raft-guiding and towing it-we would have a better chance of reaching the only island in which we could get helped. Upon checking that each of us was indeed OK, not injured and fit to swim-we began our next journey to the island in the elements. We swam across the channel opposing the current in order to avoid being swept out to sea. Numerous patches of coral reef along the way gave us momentary rest while simultaneously creating injury. We (myself first, leading the raft) climbed and crawled over and through these coral patches that stretched along the way between our crash site and the island. As we touched and climbed over these patches with our raft, we endured many deep cuts and scrapes in our effort to get past them and back into open water to swim. We encountered this at least four (4) times; although at the time we did not realize how damaging the coral was due to our adrenaline rush and survival instincts. We would only later realize the extent of our wounds.
At the point in which we arrived on the island shore I heard a little fishing boat powering up and leaving the dock. All of us eventually noticed the boat and waved to get its attention. In less than three (3) minutes we got their attention and [the guards] came over to attend and greet us. These people/guards stationed at this island were the first people we encountered. By now our 3 mile swim to the island in the rain storm was complete. Again, it lasted at least one hour. The men thankfully and gracefully took us in where we were able to collect ourselves, rest and reflect on what had happened. The pilot began to use the guards' radio to make his initial calls to Coast Guard and/or aviation authorities to report our new position and status to them. It is my understanding that during this moment that the coast guard was dispatched to retrieve us-as we were now safe, on land, fully accounted for and position confirmed. We remained on this wildlife island well into the nighttime and continuing rain before the coast guard arrived. Much longer than twenty minutes. I believe that we had likely been on that island an hour and a half (at least).
We were escorted out (with our wet bags) to the receiving dock to meet the coast guard speedboat in the night as they greeted us. We thanked the men/guards from the island who initially recovered us after coming ashore and boarded the coast guard boat. We were told they had received orders to take us to Blackbird resort/island. This trip in the night took at minimum 1 hour due to the poor weather conditions and coral reef conditions in the area (the boat captain was careful to not speed through that delicate area for fear of damage to the boat or the reef). We later arrived at the resort, still in pouring rain, where we were graciously taken in by the manager and assigned rooms for the night and fed by the pleasant staff. The staff also washed and dried some of our items so that we could have clean clothes to wear for the night and the scheduled trip back to Belize which was arranged by Tropic Air.
Conclusion: There is no possible way that the Coast Guard picked us up in 20 minutes. They may have left to come get us within 20 minutes of the call (?) but even that call could not have been made prior to being picked up by the guards at the Audubon society on the first island-which was already at least one hour and fifteen minutes after the plane crashed into the sea. Additionally, even if the coast guard left to come within 20 minutes of the call, they did not actually show up on that island to retrieve us until well INTO THE NIGHT-as we had already been there waiting an hour and a half.
This clarification is not to cast aspersions on the coast guard or discredit their skill but to correct the record; for they eventually did pick us up and take us to where we could have accommodations for the night. In that regard I am, we are (and were) very thankful. I just believe it should not be reported by their officials or anyone else that we were recovered in twenty minutes time. That is simply not true. Additionally, I read/heard via news outlets that Tropic Air began conducting immediate investigations on the pilot in accordance with standards and protocols-specifically in reference to blood tests on the pilot that follow airplane crashes/incidents. Two things on this account: (1) at no point did I observe any thing or behavior to cause my suspicion of the pilot's state of being or sobriety and (2) there was absolutely no intervention by Tropic Air to conduct blood test(s) on the pilot as a part of an investigation on June 2nd-as we were in the ocean swimming for the first hour (or more) after the crash.
The next morning, June 3rd, Tropic Air flew us (and a few additional workers from the resort) back to Belize City. Upon arrival on the tarmac we were met by Tropic Air officials who were very concerned and helpful to us. We soon commenced a roughly two (2) hour period of processing in which we were carefully attended to; filling out (some) paperwork and rebooked on new flights to our various destinations. The captain was quickly separated from us (Arthur Rogiérs, Eddie Bodden) for what I presume were his official airline and CAA investigations. During that time we were interviewed by the Civil Aviation Authority. The CAA gentlemen were very thorough in their line of questioning-however I did notice that they interviewed us only as a group and never singularly or via additional individual interview. Also our interview/deposition was administered via verbal questioning and testimony-on paper by the CAA representatives but not with aid of an audio recording device. On the other hand, the Tropic Air representatives were very gracious, helpful and sympathetic to us but we were never officially deposed by the airline for a sequential account of the events leading to and after the plane accident; only by the Civil Aviation Authority. At the end Tropic Air provided various forms of contact information as well as taking our information for future and continuing correspondence. After speaking with my sister and the US Embassy I was re-booked on a flight to Miami and Washington, DC later that morning and departed Belize City once investigations were completed. While both my sister and I have been invited to openly correspond with Tropic Air representatives for further information and developments, as of this date (June 6th, 2015) we have not had any correspondence, contact or inquiry initiated by anyone from Tropic Air subsequent to my departure from Belize City on Wednesday, June 3rd 2015.
I want to stress for the record my commendation of the pilots efforts, skills and choices in the plane crash on June 2nd. While Mr. Bodden and I were quite skilled and composed with quick reactions during and after the crash, the reality is that Captain Delfield literally pulled us out of the submerged aircraft that we were both struggling to get out of. For that, and for his decision to ditch the plane where he did-and in the manner in which he did, I will forever be grateful and sing his praises.