Haiti Grounds Private Planes, Launches Investigation into Second Deadly Crash in 9 Months

April 21, 2022
Haiti’s civil aviation authority has grounded all private planes as it investigates what may have caused a single-engine airplane to crash Wednesday, killing all the occupants aboard, including the pilot.

Haiti’s civil aviation authority has grounded all private planes as it investigates what may have caused a single-engine airplane to crash Wednesday, killing all the occupants aboard, including the pilot.

The decision to ban private flights was made Thursday and will remain in effect until further notice, a source familiar with the decision, but not authorized to speak, confirmed to the Miami Herald. The source also confirmed that the death toll from Wednesday’s crash currently stands at seven, which includes four passengers, the pilot and two people on the ground. One of the dead was a motorcyclist who perished when the plane crashed. Five passengers in a van hit by the aircraft were also transported to a local hospital.

On Wednesday, the six-seat Cessna 207 crashed about eight miles from Port-au-Prince’s domestic airport on a busy road just south of the capital. The plane was en route to the port city of Jacmel in southeast Haiti when it plunged from the sky shortly after takeoff and crashed not far from a police station in Carrefour, a sprawling suburb at the southern edge of metropolitan Port-au-Prince.

Photos of the crash showed one of the wing flaps stuck on a pole, which could mean that the fixed-wing airplane may have struck a pole before hitting the ground and breaking apart.

The new head of the National Office of Civil Aviation, Col. Laurent Joseph Dumas, told Port-au-Prince-based radio station Magik 9 Thursday morning that his investigators are looking at all possible causes of the crash. He said the pilot, who has been identified as Amado Gutierrez, radioed for help with a Mayday call before the crash.

Dumas, who is also a pilot, questioned Gutierrez’s flying judgment, saying that because the plane was less than 300 meters from the ocean, “it was a bad decision” for the pilot to have been flying over land, where there are not only passing motorists but poles and electrical cables.

Dumas could not immediately say when the aircraft was last inspected but confirmed that it was not authorized to fly commercially. He said the plane was registered with the civil aviation office as a private plane in the name of Nicolas Khawly.

Dumas said he could not confirm reports that the aircraft was routinely engaged in commercial flights, making multiple daily trips for pay to Jacmel, which is about a 20-minute plane ride from the capital.

“It’s not normal,” Dumas said for privately registered planes to be engaged in commercial activities.

“For us to have proof, we will need to investigate ... to know if in fact it was doing marketing, was it selling tickets, did it have an established tariff?” Dumas said.

The accident, the second crash in nine months on the same route, is raising questions about the regulation of domestic air travel in Haiti, where violent clashes between armed gangs along National Road No. 2 — the main highway that connects Port-au-Prince to Carrefour and four regional departments in the south — and rampant kidnappings are fueling increased demand for charters and domestic air travel.

With the gang fighting and kidnappings making road travel between Port-au-Prince’s and cities in the south impossible on most days, those who can have turned to flying, while those who can’t afford the cost of airline tickets have been forced to either remain stranded, risk their life on public buses or travel by motorcycle along a mountainous rutted back road.

In cases where public transportation and commercial traffic have been allowed to cross Martissant, the gang-controlled neighborhood along National Road No. 2, they have been forced to pay gangs, which in some cases have offered no guarantee against pillaging or abductions.

In an already highly unequal and poor society like Haiti, the difference is adding to tensions in a population already besieged by higher food and fuel prices.

Last month, the frustration exploded into violence after protesters in the southwestern city of Les Cayes accused airlines of making money off the violence and a group of protesters set fire to a small airplane parked at the airport. The plane belonged to a Florida-based missionary group that has been serving Haiti for over 40 years.

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