Terror as Virgin jet avoids disaster landing on flooded runway in dark, storm-hit St Lucia,” is how the UK Express titled its story about the bumpy and near disastrous landing of a Virgin flight here on Christmas Eve.
In the December 28 issue of the STAR we questioned the veracity of claims by NEMO that a radar system in Martinique was down resulting in the lack of forecasting of the Christmas Eve trough that wreaked havoc across the island. That claim has since been found to be untrue based on our enquiries with Met officials in Martinique. We also questioned whether someone was asleep at the wheel, allowing a Virgin Atlantic Airbus to land on an already flooded Hewannora Airport at about 7:30 pm that same day. According to our investigations, the plane which was coming in from Tobago, landed on a runway already filled with water, mud and debris as a result of heavy rains which the island experienced that day. A nearby river had also burst its banks bringing with it more deluge.
Pilots of the Virgin Atlantic jet we have since learnt, were reportedly given no warning of the fact that the runway was littered with water and debris. The result;the Airbus A330 sustained substantial damage to its landing gear and fuselage as it touched down.
The STAR has since learnt that an investigation has now been launched to determined exactly what happened, however both SLASPA and tourism officials here have been mum on the matter. During a press conference last week held by prime minister Kenny Anthony, we attempted to solicit a statement from tourism minister Lorne Theophilus on what exactly happened and who was liable. But before the minister could respond prime minister Anthony rushed in; “we are not going to make a statement about that.” “Does that mean there will be no information forthcoming about this matter,” I persisted. “All I am saying is at this time we are not prepared to say anything on this matter and once there are questions about liability this becomes a very sensitive issue, “ said the prime minister. Efforts to get an official statement from SLASPA which manages the affairs of the island’s air and sea-ports have also been futile so too were efforts to reach the director of tourism. However the STAR has learnt that there may be fallouts from the Virgin mishap which could have implications for the local tourism industry.
Since the incident, the Virgin airbus has been sitting on the tarmac at Hewannorra in Vieux Fort since the airport does not have any hangars or repair facilities to accommodate such aircraft.
Flight VS-98 from Tobago to Saint Lucia and then on to London Gatwick was making its final approach to St Lucia on Christmas Eve with a short stop-off to pick up extra passengers. It was quite a bumpy landing for the crew and passengers. The damage the plane incurred was enough to force Virgin to cancel the final leg of the flight to Gatwick, leaving passengers stranded here. The effects of the trough also saw a number of other regional and international flights being cancelled-the airport remained closed until Boxing Day December 26.