The Royal St. Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force (RSVGPF) on Friday gave full credit to fishermen and divers in Bequia for recovering the bodies of the four people who died in a plane crash there on Thursday.
“The RSVGPF acknowledges that there was an error in the release where it stated that the four bodies were recovered from the aircraft/sea by Coast Guard personnel,” the police said in a statement.
“The RSVGPF wishes to give full credit to the valiant efforts of the fishermen and divers from the Bequia community who collaborated with the SVG Coast Guard in the retrieval operation. The bodies were recovered from the wreckage by the divers and handed over to Coast Guard personnel at the scene,” the statement said.
“The RSVGPF and the SVG Coast Guard Service value the partnership and collaboration of members of the public in the execution of their duties. The selfless and brave act of the fishermen and divers is very much appreciated and supported 100 per cent by the authorities.”
In its statement on Thursday, the police force said “the four bodies … were recovered from the aircraft/sea by Coast Guard personnel”.
This triggered criticism by members of the public amidst videos and photographs of the recovery effort which showed fishers and divers in the water and Coast Guard personnel on board their vessels.
One fisherman told iWitness News in Paget Farm, Bequia that after arriving, the Coast Guard told them they had to await divers to retrieve the bodies.
“We explained to them that the tide was now starting to run so if you left it (the wreckage) there, it was a (possibility) that we wouldn’t find the plane again, that it would drift off,” the fisherman told iWitness News.
He said the tide was going in a north-westly direction and would have carried the wreckage out into the open water.
The local fishermen then took the decision to retrieve the bodies from the wreckage and hand them over to the Coast Guard.
Hollywood actor Christian Klepser, 51, of the United States, who goes by the stage name Christian Oliver, and his two daughters, Madita Klepser, 10, and Annik Klepser, 12, along with pilot Robert Sachs of Bequia, died when the plane plunged into the sea shortly after take-off from Bequia JF Mitchell Airport.
Police said the aircraft was a single engine, airplane, registration number N4023B, owned and piloted by Sachs.
“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. 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 traveled to Paget Farm, Bequia to lead in the rescue efforts,” police said.
The bodies were transported to St. Vincent on board the Coast Guard vessel and were taken to the Kingstown Mortuary where post-mortem examinations are expected to be conducted, police said.