35th Anniversary of Plane Crash at Mount Gimie, Saint Lucia - A reminder to be prepared for all types of emergencies

Castries, Saint Lucia, October 28, 2008 (NEMO) – The National Emergency Management Office (NEMO) continues its campaign of education to inform Saint Lucians that we must prepare for not only hurricanes. Tomorrow marks 35 years since a plane crashed at Mount Gimie leaving 3 dead. The following is an extract from an article by Robert Devaux for the Saint Lucia National Trust: At 7:30 p.m. Monday, 29th October 1973, Pilot Surage left Vigie Airport for Hewanorra Airport, 15 minutes away, in a SIAS (Sun Island Air Service) twin engine Islander aircraft, registration number M37JA, with three passengers. They were Dutch Engineer Dalman from Trinidad and his two sons, ages 9 and 11 years old. It became obvious by 8:30 p.m. when Surage had not yet requested landing clearance that the plane had probably encountered some misfortune. A search and rescue operation could not be launched until daylight.

At first light on Tuesday morning, an air and sea search was carefully conducted, using the spray plane, the police boat and other small crafts. Julio Valdez, SLBGA pilot, was the first to spot the wreckage from the air, on the south eastern spur of Morne Gimie.

A French helicopter was called in from Martinique to assist in a rescue attempt, but the terrain proved to be much too steep and dangerous to accommodate any such attempt from the air. A ground party including a doctor, with slim hope of finding survivors, was organised by mid-day and set out on foot from Migny. The difficult terrain made it impossible to reach the crash site before night fall and the rescue party had to spend an uncomfortable night in the forest.

The wreck was reached on Wednesday, when four bodies had to be pried from the mangled cabin of the plane. The rescuers wisely decided to bring back only the bodies of the two youths. The bodies of the two adults, 150 lbs. Surage and 250 lbs. Dalman, were injected with formalin to delay the process of decay, placed in body bags and laid on the only bit of non-precipitous ground near the wrecked aircraft. On Thursday, a rescue party from Trinidad arrived in Saint Lucia, at the family's expense, to bring back the body of Dalman. This was only accomplished after the heavy body was cut in half and carried down the precipitous slope in two pieces.

The body of Surage was still on the mountain when a delegation approached the Premier on Friday, making several allegations and bemoaning the fact that people were asking for $10,000.00 as a rescue fee. The family was seeking Government's assistance to recover the body of Surage.

I did not like the idea and I (called) the Premier and suggested that since the terrain was so difficult and dangerous, the body of Surage should be cremated on the mountain after a short ceremony by a Minister of Religion. The Premier replied that I did not understand the implications, that a delegation had approached him that morning (Friday) accusing government of recovering the bodies of the white passengers while leaving the body of the black pilot to rot on the mountain. I saw how distorted this accusation was and immediately volunteered. The Premier thanked me and informed me that the police boat would leave from Port Police Station at 4:00 a.m.

The truth is that beside the Premier, about seven policemen and fifteen prisoners, there were really only two volunteers on the rescue mission for the body of Pilot Surage.

NEMO takes this opportunity to remind the public that Saint Lucia is vulnerable to many hazards and though storms are recurrent we need to be prepared for all manner of threats.

For comment, please contact:
• Mr. Eustace Cherry, Secretary, National Civil Aviation Security Committee: 758-468-4632
• Mr. Peter Jean, Director of Airports [SLASPA]: 758-456-0339