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The 'missing' aircraft. (internet photo)
The ‘missing’ aircraft. (internet photo)
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An aviation expert has offered new insights into how a private jet departed from Canouan last December then later “disappeared” with authorities reportedly not knowing who were the people onboard or where it went.

The expert told iWitness News that security at the airport in the southern Grenadine island is so lax that anyone with keys to an aircraft who appears to know what they are doing could just walk onto the tarmac and board it.

Further, the expert, who asked not to be named so as to speak freely on the issue, said that aircraft of the type in question have been used by various interests, including intelligence agencies and drug traffickers.

They are a favourite for missions in which the aircraft itself is considered disposal in pursuit of a more “profitable” outcome, the expert said.  

The “disappearance” of the aircraft, N337LR, a two-engine, fixed-wing, 21-seat Gulfstream 3 that was manufactured in 1981, became public on Dec. 23, 2023 after someone made a post on Facebook, which was later deleted.

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The post said that a named person at Argyle International Airport Control Tower had “formally reported” that aircraft N337LR had embarked on a sightseeing excursion from Canouan at precisely 2:27 p.m. that day, carrying three passengers in addition to

the pilot.

“Regrettably, specific details such as the pilot’s name, age, occupation, and address remain unknown,” the post said, adding that the initial contact occurred at 2:33 p.m., “subsequent to which all communication ceased.

“The anticipated landing in Canouan was scheduled for 4:27 PM. The pilot’s final communication with the control tower occurred at 2:33 PM, marking the onset of an inexplicable loss of all subsequent contact. “Notably, no distress call was issued, and neither radar signals nor frequencies have been detected since that juncture.”

The post said the aircraft was “equipped with a sufficient fuel reserve for 4 hours and 2 hours of airtime.

“As a proactive measure, neighboring countries–Barbados, Trinidad, St. Lucia, Grenada, and Martinique-have been duly notified and requested to exercise vigilance. Additionally, the AlA Control Tower has promptly communicated with the SVG Coast Guard. which has initiated search efforts deploying aircraft to survey for potential debris,” the post said.

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, who is also minister of national security, commented on the development on Dec. 27, saying that Vincentian authorities had 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 on the state-owned NBC Radio.

Since then, there has been silence by the government on the issue.

However, Central Kingstown MP, St. Clair Leacock, who is also the opposition spokesperson on national security matters, raised the issue at a press conference on Feb. 21.

“Have you heard the end output, for example, of the plane that disappeared from the radar?” Leacock said as he addressed national security matters and government accountability.

“Where did it land? What did it take away with it? What are the interests? Who benefited for the thousands of gallons of fuel that was sold to it? Did it ring alarm bells that somebody all of a sudden wanted this and that story,” Leacock said.

But the expert who spoke to iWitness News said that information available on certain internet platforms, suggest that before arriving in Canouan, the aircraft was last flown a year earlier in the United States.

Like most aircraft, the private jet was equipped with ADS-B, a system in which electronic equipment onboard an aircraft automatically broadcasts the precise location of the aircraft via a digital data link.

“It is a super aircraft; it was the aircraft of its day, superseded by other Gulfstreams,” the expert told iWitness News, adding that while the engine technology on newer models have changed, making them less noisy, the Gulfstream 3 is “still a fantastic aircraft”.

However, unlike the newer version of the aircraft, the model that “disappeared” after departing Canouan in December “has better performance speed and climb.

“It has a 4,000-mile range,” the expert said.

The expert said that Vincentian air space is ideal for an aircraft that wants to do “a disappearing act”.

An aircraft that is departing from and returning to the same location without landing somewhere else, it does not need to clear customs, file a flight plan or a manifest.

The source explained that this was similar to what happened at ET Joshua Airport a few years ago, when LIAT introduced its fleet of ART aircraft.

After the ceremony at the airport, government officials and other invited guests, including the media, were taken on a flight that circled Canouan then returned to E.T. Joshua Airport.

“So, the normal procedure is to tell the tower you have four people on board, four hours of fuel, will be flying around and will be out for an hour or two and will inform them as you are going through the various air spaces,” the source explained of the requirement for a sightseeing flight.

If the aircraft had informed authorities that it would be flying to another point, it would have had to file a flight plan, clear immigration and pay the relevant fees, the expert told iWitness News.

“If you want to disappear, do a run, you can theoretically do a sightseeing flight and land on an airfield in South America. They will never know where the aircraft went because it turned off its transponder.

“You can make a dog-leg between Bequia and Canouan and out to the Caribbean Sea and go wherever you want to go.

A dog-leg refers to the portion of a flight which does not lead directly to the destination or waypoint and can be done with a view to either lose time or avoid bad weather or an obstruction.

 “They probably loaded up the airplane with something and did a run; flew somewhere into Central or South America,” the expert told iWitness News, adding that the flight track for the aircraft had been scrubbed from ADS-B for the year leading up to its disappearance.

“If you are doing something that will get you $10 to $40 million, what a capable aircraft to have,” the expert said, adding “They have been used by agencies like the CIA to do one-trips for special missions.”

The expert further said that when an aircraft goes missing, all operators in the region are contacted and briefed and are supposed to advise their pilots to be always looking out for debris or a life raft.

“No airline was notified or asked to get involved,” the expert told iWitness News.

The expert said that airport security in Canouan is not at the same level as in Argyle, which has an international airport and more commercial flights.

“You can walk out to an aircraft if you have the keys. If you walk around the place like you know what you are doing, no one bothers you. In Canouan, there is no security really, no prying eyes. The airplane blends in with the others sitting there,” he said of the island, which has become the frolicking ground of the world’s billionaires.

“If don’t know who went on board, how do you know what went on? The security there is more lax than at Argyle and easier to manipulate,” the expert said. 

One reply on “Expert gives insights into ‘disappearance’ of private jet in Canouan  ”

  1. Well we’ll all I can say something in the mortar besides the pestle. This was a clandestine operation loaded in secrecy. You want to tell me that the ministry of security has no information on the whole drama? Fools talk but not fool are listening.

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