Hails: Fire officers mishandled airport landing

Records were allegedly altered

Government said on Friday that it will investigate a November incident where Cayman Islands Fire Service officers allegedly followed improper protocol for the landing of a 767 jet at Owen Roberts International Airport, and where fire service records on the incident were later altered.

According to a Dec. 19 memo from Chief Fire Officer David Hails, on Nov. 7 air traffic controllers requested that fire officers be prepared for a “Category 9” aircraft landing, meaning a jet between 61- and 76-meters long, requiring 12 fire personnel.

At the time, fire officers were operating at a “Category 7” level, meaning they had eight personnel prepared for an aircraft between 39- and 49-meters long.

With the jet about 15 minutes from landing, Acting Station Officer Larue Nixon called several off-duty officers to assist, but they did not arrive in time for the landing, according to the memo, so four members of the senior management team stepped in to assist, including acting Deputy Chief Officer Brevon Elliot and Acting Senior Divisional Officer Gilbert Rankin.

However, Chief Officer Hails’s memo states that Mr. Elliot is not certified to participate in aircraft landings, and Mr. Rankin was on extended light duties and was using a walking stick at the time of the incident.

Cargo or passengers

There was also confusion as to whether the jet was carrying cargo or passengers, according to Chief Hails’s memo, which was posted on www.caymanmarlroad.com and was confirmed by a government spokesperson as being authentic.

Mr. Nixon initially said he was told that the aircraft was a cargo flight, but was later informed by “hearsay” that the aircraft may have been carrying more than 200 passengers, according to the memo.

Cayman Islands Airports Authority later confirmed that the jet was, in fact, a passenger aircraft. The jet was a 767-31A model belonging to Atlas Air Inc., which conducts both cargo and charter flights.

According to the memo, the jet was actually a “Category 8” aircraft, not a “Category 9” aircraft as allegedly indicated by Air Traffic Control.

Altered records

The memo states that fire officers may have changed documents about the incident after it happened.

“Preliminary investigations into the incident have revealed that the Watch Officers log was created on 7th Nov. [2018] which makes reference to the availability of personnel for the 767 movements,” the memo states, “it was then modified on 23rd Nov. [2018] to read what seems to be a different account of the events surrounding the 767 movements.”

Investigation

Noting the discrepancies and other issues with the landing, Chief Hails stated that an investigation should be carried out to answer multiple questions and allegations, including:

The short 15-minute notice allegedly given by air traffic controllers before the jet’s landing;

Why the aircraft was allegedly reported as a Category 9 cargo flight when it was actually a Category 8 passenger flight;

Whether the fire officers were not qualified to handle the landing “which appears to have resulted in submitting a false declaration of Cat 9 to [Air Traffic Control]; and

Why senior fire personnel did not report the incident to supervisors.

Chief Hails also said that his acting deputy chief, Mr. Elliot, and other senior members working on the crew will be reverted from their acting roles to their substantive ranks pending the outcome of the investigation. However, Mr. Elliot was still the acting deputy chief as of Friday, when contacted by a Compass reporter. Mr. Elliot declined to comment for this story.

According to Chief Hails’s memo, an aerodrome certificate can be revoked for reasons including if the operator does not correct violations, repeats serious violations, or “has demonstrated a serious lack of responsibility, such as deliberate and flagrant acts of non-compliance or falsification of records jeopardizing aviation safety.”

When contacting the fire service for comment Friday, a Compass reporter was told that Chief Hails was on scheduled holiday leave. An email sent to Chief Hails had not been responded to as of presstime Sunday.

Ministry statement

After the memo and an accompanying story were posted on www.caymanmarlroad.com on Thursday, the Ministry of Home Affairs stated that it will be investigating the incident.

“Following a report by Cayman Marl Road on 27 December 2018, the Ministry of Financial Services and Home Affairs can confirm that the Director-General of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Cayman Islands (CAACI) was informed of the alleged incident, by Chief Fire Officer (CFO) Hails on 12th December 2018. The CFO subsequently submitted an ‘occurrence report’ to the CAACI on 21st December 2018,” government stated, adding, “The Ministry can further confirm that a joint investigation will be conducted by the CIFS and the CIAA, commencing 2 January 2019. A report on the findings will be produced, including where necessary, recommendations to ensure that similar occurrences are not repeated.”

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