Robin Ramdeen has flown with Fly Montserrat “hundreds of times” since arriving on the island in 2015. She feels at home on the twin-engine, eight-seater plane and often takes a nap during the short commute between Antigua and Montserrat.
On Monday afternoon Ramdeen boarded Fly Montserrat Flight 807 at V.C. Bird International Airport along with five other passengers and the pilot. After buckling up she settled in for her customary snooze. The airplane took off without incident and amidst good weather. “We actually took off a little early because all the passengers checked in early,” she says.
When Ramdeen woke up about 15 minutes later – at a time when the plane would normally be preparing to land – she looked out the window and saw dense fog. She was not alarmed, as she had flown under similar circumstances before.
“Everybody was pretty calm,” the Trinidad native said. “Finally, we got out of the fog and we were about to land.”
The normally 20-minute flight was extended by at least 10 minutes as the pilot navigated through the poor visibility. Most pilots are trained for instrument flight, and the hazards and obstacles for each island are well-known by the Fly Montserrat pilots. However, they must have a good visual in order to land, and sometimes they circle the coast of the island until visibility improves.
When the plane finally touched down at around 4:20 p.m., it seemed like a routine landing.
“When we landed there was a tiny little bounce, which is normal,” Ramdeen says. “Then we drive, drive, drive . . . and I remember thinking, ‘When is this plane going to slow down, because we were coming to the end of the runway.’
“That’s when we ended up in the bush.”
The plane skidded, turned, and traveled tail-first down an embankment and settled in the thick vegetation near the edge of the runway. The airstrip has a retaining fence, but both ends of the runway at Osborne Airport feature down-slopes, leaving pilots virtually no margin for error.
Ramdeen says she’s not sure what the pilot did to avoid breaching the airstrip boundary, but she’s grateful. “She controlled that plane,” Ramdeen says.
It is unclear if the pilot experienced a braking problem that was complicated by the wet runway. A team from the UK-based Air Accident Investigation Branch arrived in Montserrat on Wednesday to further probe the incident.
Fly Montserrat has experienced several incidents in recent years. Among them:
On April 16, 2011, a Fly Montserrat plane’s right brake malfunctioned after landing at Osborne Airport, and the pilot was forced to apply the left brake and veer off into the grass to avoid the end of the runway. There were no injuries.
On 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 the presence of water in the fuel line.
Ramdeen says she remained calm throughout the events Monday. She says some passengers even posed for photos next to the disabled plane when they disembarked.
“I don’t think one person yelped or screamed [during the incident],” she says.
“I remember thinking, ‘When is this plane going to slow down, because we were coming to the end of the runway.’ ”Robin Ramdeen
Ramdeen, whose hobbies include scuba diving, admits she is probably more daring than the average person and likely handled the anxiety of the situation better than others. “I’m super calm,” she says.
However, two other passengers who were contacted stated that they were still too traumatized to discuss the incident.
Going forward, Ramdeen says she has no trepidation or reluctance about flying. “I fly very frequently and I know all the pilots,” she says. “They all handle themselves very well. As a matter of fact I’m supposed to fly tomorrow.”
Still, she is thankful to walk away unscathed.
“When we got out of the plane, I called my mom and I said, ‘Thank God for life, thank God for that pilot . . . and thank God for the bushes.’ “
A look at the world’s shortest runways for commercial airports:
|1. Juancho E. Yrausquin, Saba||1,312|
|2. Heligoland, Germany||1,575|
|3. Tenzing-Hillary, Nepal||1,729|
|4. Courchevel, France||1,762|
|5. John A. Osborne, Montserrat||1,968|
Source: Wikipedia / Airport Technology