Advertisement 87
Advertisement 323
The aircraft in a photo uploaded to Facebook on Dec. 26, 2021, left, and the moment it crashed in the sea on Thursday, Jan. 4, 2024.
The aircraft in a photo uploaded to Facebook on Dec. 26, 2021, left, and the moment it crashed in the sea on Thursday, Jan. 4, 2024.

By Kenton X. Chance

The single engine aircraft that crashed off Bequia on Thursday killing all four people on board appeared to have exploded after hitting the water, a witness told iWitness News.

Cornell Campbell told iWitness News in Paget Farm, Bequia Thursday afternoon that he was working on the island shortly after noon when his attention was drawn to “the sound of the plane, the engine, the propeller.

“Everything shut off the first time. So, I told my friend, ‘That plane is going to crash,’” Campbell told iWitness News sometime after local fishermen retrieved the bodies from the aeroplane some 60 to 80 feet below the surface of the sea.

“But the plane kicked up back again like it built up back a power,” he said, adding that the aircraft lost altitude after the engine shut off the first time.

Advertisement 271

“…  the plane dropped then it stared up back. It try build a height again to go around the island — Petit Nevis. So, after it swing Petit Nevis, the engine failed again.  So that is when it just cleared the entrance at the peak of the mountain and just dived down,” Campbell told iWitness News.

“But it did not come down straight like this,” he said, gesturing with his hands. “When it come down, it turned sideways and land in (plunged into) the water. After it land in the water, about one second after, it exploded under the water.”

Campbell told iWitness News that pieces of the aircraft fell off after it crashed into the water.

“But when it sinking, something went ‘bouff!’ in the water and that is why I said it exploded. So that is the only thing I heard when the plane was sinking. It went ‘bouff!’ under the water.”

In a statement Thursday afternoon, police said the aircraft, registration number N4023B, was owned and piloted by Robert Sachs, of Bequia. It crashed into the sea one nautical mile west of Petit Nevis, sometime after midday.

One aviation expert who was familiar with the aircraft, told iWitness News that it is a Belanca Viking 300, a series of single-engine, four-seat, high performance, retractable gear aircraft manufactured in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s.

Police said there were three passengers on board, namely, Christian Klepser, 51, of the United States and his daughters, Madita Klepser, 10, and Annik Klepser, 12.

The three passengers also died in the crash.

Bob Sachs flying cropped
Bob Sachs flying he aeroplane in a photo updated to Facebook on on June 2, 2021.

“The aircraft went airborne from the J.F. Mitchell Airport in Paget Farm about 12:11 p.m. for St. Lucia as its final destination. Moments after taking off, the aircraft experienced difficulties and plummeted into the ocean,” police said.

“Fishermen and divers from Paget Farm went to the scene of the incident in their boats to render assistance. The SVG Coast Guard was informed and quickly travelled to Paget Farm, Bequia to lead in the rescue efforts.”

Police said Coast Guard personnel recovered the bodies from the sea, and they were pronounced dead by a medical practitioner.

However, local fishermen said that they, rather than Coast Guard officers, recovered the bodies because the Coast Guard had no divers on board.

The bodies were transported to St. Vincent on board a Coast Guard vessel and were taken to the Kingstown Mortuary, where post-mortem examinations are expected to be carried out to ascertain the cause of death, police said.

“The RSVGPF expresses condolences to all who are negatively affected by this tragic incident. The RSVGPF will update the public as more information is gathered. Investigation into the matter continues,” the police statement said.

Campbell said that the tragedy left him unable to work the remainder of the day.

“I feel sad … I had to stop work. Because I have kids too so the feelings there, it makes me sad so I tell my workman let’s quit work today and go home and breeze we self …” Campbell told iWitness News.

BQI crash 3 1
Fishing boats and a Coast Guard interceptor at the scene of the crash on Thursday, Jan. 4, 2024.

Fishermen and other people near the fisheries complex in Paget Farm also witnessed the crash. Among them was Conrad Bess, a Bequia resident, who was hanging out with friends.

Bess told iWitness News that he heard a “boup, boup, boup” sound and saw the plane crash shortly after departing from the airport, which is located nearby.

“When I do look, it go down headways and I see more people start to gather around and then the divers and them now come and go rescue them,” Bess told iWitness News, adding that the crash occurred around 12:10 p.m.

“To be honest I didn’t feel good at all…” Bess told iWitness News, adding that he was happy, however, that the bodies were recovered.

Among the people who witnessed the crash was one of Sachs’ former employees at Dive Bequia, who asked not to be identified by name. 

The 29-year-old fisherman who Sachs taught to scuba dive five years ago, told iWitness News he and some friends were relaxing at the Fisheries complex in Paget Farm.

“We hear the plane when it came from the airport. But we weren’t really paying attention to it. When the plane reach like over us, like right over the fisheries, we hear when the plane short out, like the engine go dead and catch back itself.

“So, we said, ‘That plane giving some problems.’ So, when it reach a little further up, we heard it short out again. So, when the plane short out again, I jump up and said, ‘Fellas, that plane ain’t sound right.’

“From the time I say the plane ain’t sound right, I miss (stopped hearing) the engine of the plane and when I look out to sea, I just catch when the plane went down.”

The fisherman said he called the captain of his boat and told him what had happened and they set out to sea.

“When we went out there, the plane was already sunk; the plane was already under water. Those two fellows out there were the guys who actually found the plane first because we spread out searching for it.”

Coast Guard in Port Elizabeth
Coast Guard officers move the bodies from one interceptor to the other in Port Elizabeth, Bequia on Thursday, Jan. 4, 2024.

The fisherman estimated the water in the area to be as 60 to 70 feet deep.

He said the four passengers were inside the aircraft.

“The four of them were strapped inside of the plane,” he told iWitness News adding that Sachs was his past employer, “a good friend, close to the family”.

The fisherman told iWitness News he could not express how he felt.

“Sad. Sad. … I am very sorry it happened. … Accidents happen…” he said.

Meanwhile, Tyrone Durham, a retired Coast Guard officer, told iWitness News he was sitting under a tree near the fisheries complex when he heard a small plane depart from the airport, flying east.

“It seems as though the power cut out or the engine failed and then I came out from under the tree and looked at the plane. It seems as though it was turning to head back to the airport but then with the wind, because I don’t think it had reached the [cruising] altitude so it was apparently going back to the airport,” Durham said.

“That’s when the wind took control of it and it came down and plunged into the water just about one and a half nautical miles off Petit Nevis.”

Durham said he alerted the Coast Guard and fishermen who were returning from sea responded to the incident.

The retired Coast Guard officer said that based on his knowledge of the area, the plane plunged into water that is between 60 and 80 feet deep.

He had never witnessed a plane crash before, but had to help to retrieve bodies when an aircraft crashed in the mid 1990s after departing from E.T. Joshua Airport in Arnos Vale after a One Day International Cricket match.

Durham told iWitness News that witnessing the plane crash on Thursday was “terrible, terrible.

“It wasn’t a good sight to behold. It wasn’t a good sight at all,” he said, adding that he was happy, however, that the bodies were recovered.

“They are not missing. So, having them recovered you can bring closure to the families,” Durham told iWitness News. 

3 replies on “Plane ‘exploded’ after plunging into water off Bequia, witness says”

  1. That must of been terrible to witness. The nation thank you fishermen for your bravery. Now the families can have closure knowing that their bodies have been found. Great job!

  2. Across the miles says:

    Good job by the fishermen. And the accounts gave some insight into what occurred.

    The gentleman who died was an actor in Hollywood. He acted in the Speed Racer movie.

    Condolences to the families if they are reading this,

  3. I am happy that the bodies are recovered data can come to the family and I want to say to the family that you will see them again. I am wondering if these people in authority will look into this deeper shouldn’t we have arrow planes with life jackets that people can put on when they are Crossing these Waters? the ocean is so deep I don’t know but I think that passengers should have life jackets on at all times when we are going from Islands to Islands or countries.

Comments closed.