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Search for plane missing over Guyana’s jungle won’t be called off yet

The area where the search and rescue operation is underway for the missing Air Services Limited (ASL) aircraft is being conducted.

Authorities on Wednesday shied away from saying when the search for the Britten-Norman Islander plane that went missing earlier this week would be called off, but noted that the operation was now in a critical period with the passage of 72 hours.

Air Traffic Controllers around midday Sunday reported losing communication with the pilot during a shuttle of zinc sheets and other construction supplies from Mahdia to Karisparu in Region 8 (Potaro-Siparuni). Aboard were Captain Nickey Persaud, 27, and cargo loader, fifty-one year old Donald Bisnauth.

Director General of the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), Zulficar Mohamed and Transport Minister, Robeson Benn said that the search and rescue operation on Wednesday entered its “critical” phase now that 72 hours have elapsed without any trace of the aircraft. “That is the critical period when it is expected or it is hoped that you will be able to rescue them. For whatever reason, they may survive beyond that period but that is the most critical period for the rescue part but the search will always continue until such time as we have exhausted all possibilities,” said Mohamed.

Air Services Limited (ASL) Executive, Annette Arjoon-Martins could not say when the search would be called off. “It is way too early to speculate on deadlines. I would want to say that we will take it one day at a time, pursue every single avenue available to us. Our policy has been not to disregard any report- big, small, seemingly insignificant and I would wish to state pellucid that it is too early to speculate  on when we would call off,” she said.

Latest efforts did not include the insertion of several members of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) Special Forces in an area over which crows were seen hovering, but neither the plane nor bodies were found.

Using a Google Map, veteran Guyanese pilot Major Mike Charles showed the mostly likely flight path that was being scoured mostly by air. Part of that densely forested and mountainous area is almost 5,000 feet.

The search and rescue mission has also taken into consideration at least nine reports of sightings of the aircraft.  Mohamed said that in a number of instances, those who reported seeing the plane, bearing registration number 8R-GHE, were taken aboard search and rescue planes and helicopters to help pinpoint the area.

While, GCAA officials noted that the bad weather in the area was characterized by thunderstorms before 11 AM to 3 PM, Arjoon-Martins said that the pilot was very careful and would not have flown in poor weather. She said that the plane departed Mahdia in good weather and that there was no way to know the weather throughout the flight path.

Figures released showed that the plane was carrying 1,722 pounds consisting of 85 lengths of zinc sheets, one small outboard engine, three bags and two boxes.

The ASL official praised the competence of the pilot of the missing aircraft, saying that although he was young he was able to chalk up 8,000 flying hours in eight years since being designated a pilot-in-command  eight years ago. She described Persaud as one of the most experienced pilots who was very precise and detail oriented.