Inquests detail 2011 Brac plane crash

Two foreign nationals died of blunt impact trauma and injuries to the head, chest and extremities

A Coroner’s Jury heard details last week of the 13 November, 2011 plane crash in Cayman Brac before determining that the aircraft’s two occupants had died by misadventure. 

Queen’s coroner Eileen Nervik presided over inquests into the deaths of Fernando Duran Garcia, 56, a Colombian national, and Jose Santos Casteneda Castrejon, 35, a Mexican citizen. 

Mr. Garcia was identified as the pilot after his body was found slumped down from the pilot seat. Mr. Castaneda’s body was also recovered from inside the plane. 

Government pathologist Shravana Jyoti said the men received several blunt impact trauma injuries, with both having multiple fractures of the skull, face and ribs. However, only Mr. Castaneda had multiple clean cut chop injuries, most likely caused by the propeller – which had detached from the plane on impact. Only Mr. Castaneda tested positive for cocaine consumption. 

Police officers giving evidence in person included Constable Nettie Bulgin, Sergeant Ashton Freeman and Sergeant Richard Scott. 

Ms Bulgin said she received a call at 10.53pm from an off-duty officer who reported hearing the sound of a one-prop plane, seeing it fly over and then hearing a loud bang. She picked up her partner and went to check. 

Based on previous information that planes landed in a specific area of the Bluff to do drug drops, they cautiously made their way to Booby Bird Drive, which is a flat stretch of road. She saw broken branches in the road and then what appeared to be the wing of a plane in the bush. 

After notifying their supervisor, the officers left and turned their car to block the road because of the suspicious circumstances. Other officers arrived, armed themselves and entered the scene to ensure it was safe for emergency personnel. 

Mr. Ferguson said that after Ms Bulgin called him, he called out other officers, asked the fire service to meet him and put Faith Hospital on stand-by. At the scene, after armed officers satisfied themselves there was no danger, a search commenced to rescue occupants of the plane. Temporary lights were brought in with the assistance of the Public Works and District Administration. Customs officers joined police in the search. Both men were pronounced dead at the scene. 

Mr. Ferguson noted that Booby Bird Road is a dead-end road and there are no other roads with access. 

Mr. Scott arrived from Grand Cayman at 9am and noted the taking of photographs, DNA swabs and fingerprints. The plane had hit a section of a utility pole. Contents of the plane included a number of five-gallon bottles of gasoline and US$5,000 in a pouch near Mr. Castaneda’s body. An extensive search of the bush was made, but no contraband was found. He instructed that a canine search be conducted, but nothing was found except documents.  

After autopsies in Grand Cayman on 21 and 22 November, Mr. Scott said the men’s bodies were repatriated.  

A juror asked why rescuers did not go into the bush immediately to try to help victims; one of the officers explained that where contraband is suspected it is not unusual for firearms to be involved. 

Steve Fitzgerald, commander of the Air Operations Unit, shared findings of the crash investigation [many of which were made public previously.  

Mr. Fitzgerald said the single-engine Cessna crashed while apparently trying to land. Two Global Positioning Units – one operated by battery – were recovered and sent to the UK for data to be downloaded. The raw data was analysed here in Cayman.  

Information about previous flights confirmed suspicions about the criminal nature of the doomed flight and conclusions that could be drawn. Those previous flights were from Mexico to Belize to Venezuela. Way points for the plane’s last flight show it was on track for Venezuela, but something caused it to divert to Cayman Brac. 

The coroner asked if anything indicated why the plane was near the Brac. Mr. Fitzgerald said investigators found that quite a lot of the electrical systems had been shut off, which would indicate some kind of electrical problem and explain why the GPS unit powered from the aircraft was not working. 

When the GPS flight track stopped, the plane was 192 miles south of Cayman Brac. One hour and 50 minutes later, the plane was heard over the Brac.  

The September 2012 report said the aircraft’s probable electrical problem would have prevented use of the fuel in the bottles. The pilot then deviated from the original flight path, possibly heading for Cuba, and its track passed over Cayman Brac. 

Brac-Plane-Crash-Scen

The scene of the November 2011 plane crash in Cayman Brac. – Photo: File
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