Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves says information from regional and international agencies suggests that the airplane that went “missing” after departing from Canouan on Friday may have turned off its transponder.
He said that Vincentian authorities have been in touch with “two Latin American countries of relevance on the matter with certain information.
“We have also been in touch with the relevant authorities in the United States, naturally, the Regional Security System and it has become evident that there was no — the plane didn’t so much disappear as feigned a disappearance because the thesis which is being operated on is that they turned off the transponder,” he said today (Wednesday) on his weekly show on the state-owned NBC Radio.
“At least that’s what the authorities advised me, having communicated with all the other authorities I am talking about,” he said in his government’s first comments on the incident which has generated much speculation locally and across the region.
Information reaching iWitness News is that the aircraft, N337LR, a two-engine, fixed-wing, 21-seat Gulfstream aircraft that was manufactured in 1981, departed Canouan in the Southern Grenadines at 2:27 p.m. on “a sightseeing excursion”.
The aircraft had three passengers and the pilot on board but air traffic control authorities are said to have no specific details about the pilot’s name and address.
Reports are that initial contact with the aircraft occurred at 2:33 p.m., after which all communication with the aircraft ended.
The aircraft was expected to return to Canouan at 4:27 p.m. but the pilot’s final contact with the tower occurred at 2:33 p.m. “marking the onset of an inexplicable loss of all subsequent contact”.
Gonsalves said there is “no evidence of anything illegal boarded that aircraft from Canouan and the information that we have through the contact from the external authorities that they have a clear idea as to what happened.
“But a matter of that nature they don’t expect me to be coming out and talking every bit of information that comes to me through the security forces. This is what I mean about communication.
“Sometimes you have to know when you must talk, what you must say and if you must say anything at all. And sometimes, you just have to wait until the time is necessary and desirable for you to say certain things,” said Gonsalves, who is also minister of national security.
“Of course, you can’t help people with suspicious mind. But I think most sensible people listening to me understand what I am saying. You may use a particular visit as a decoy for something what you want to do. Eh?” he said and chuckled.
Air traffic control officials have noted the absence of any distress call and neither radar signals nor frequencies have been detected since the last communication from the aircraft.
The aircraft was said to have “sufficient fuel reserve for 4 hours and 2 hours of airtime”.
Reports are that an SVG Coast Guard vessel was deployed and conducted a search, but there had been no further information on this.
Gonsalves in his comments on Wednesday said that “… part of the art of communicating is to know when to communicate and what to say.
“Sometimes you just leave the matter, sometimes you wait until an occasion like now when we are talking and that comes up that people begin to see the importance of it. Other times, it is that you may be waiting for certain other information and you are contacting other agencies about this or that. Like, for instance, this quote unquote disappeared plane.