Fly Montserrat airplane skids off runway at John A. Osborne airport; no serious injuries reported

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A Fly Montserrat plane rests on the embankment at the northeast end of the runway at John A. Osborne Airport.

A Fly Montserrat airplane skidded off the runway Monday afternoon at John A. Osborne Airport with six passengers and one pilot onboard. The passengers did not sustain any serious injuries and were examined by medical personnel at the scene and sent home.

At about 4:20 p.m. Eastern Time, the plane, which embarked from Antigua, had just landed and was in the process of slowing down to begin taxiing to the terminal. It was raining at the time, and the plane skidded off the northeastern end of the runway and rested on an embankment near the edge of the airstrip.

Later in the day, after investigators had completed their work, the aircraft was pulled up from the embankment by crane and towed to the tarmac. A source close to the investigation said it didn’t appear that the plane sustained any serious damage. Removing the plane and any residue was a priority in order to assure that the airport re-opens in a timely manner, and also to alleviate the distraction.

It was not the first time that a Fly Montserrat airplane had gone off the runway under similar circumstances. On Saturday, April 16, 2011, a Fly Montserrat plane’s right brake malfunctioned after landing. In order to avoid departing the end of the runway, the pilot applied the left brake and ended up in the grassy area parallel to the runway. No one was injured but the plane sustained damage to the nose and wing.

On Sunday, October 7, 2012, a Fly Montserrat flight from Antigua to Montserrat crashed shortly after takeoff from V.C. Bird International. Three of the four passengers were killed, including the pilot. An investigation revealed that the crash was likely caused by water in the fuel line.

Monday’s incident will surely provide ammunition to critics who have maintained for years that John A. Osborne Airport is unsafe and the airport project was ill-conceived. With an election upcoming, the topic will also surely be campaign fodder.

John A. Osborne Airport opened July 11, 2005 as Gerald’s Airport and was renamed in 2008 in honor of the former Chief Minister. The airport is at an elevation of 550 feet and the airstrip is 600 meters (1,969 feet), one of the shortest in the world for commercial airports. Both ends of the runway feature ravines, leaving pilots very little margin for error.

William H. Bramble Airport, located in Trants in eastern Montserrat, was destroyed in 1997 by pyroclastic flows from the Soufriere Hills volcano. From 1997 to 2005, Montserrat was only accessible by boat or helicopter.

Fly Montserrat planes are Britten-Norman BN-2 Islanders with two engines. They can seat up to 10 passengers, including the pilot, but the cabin is sometimes altered to fit fewer passengers and more cargo.

Fly Montserrat is owned and managed by captain Nigel Harris, a British expatriate who has owned a home in Montserrat since 1989 and previously managed Montserrat Airways Limited at Bramble airport from 1990-96.

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