WHAT’S THE STORY BE­HIND FLIGHT 737-5YO?

The Star (St. Lucia) - - FRONT PAGE - ---Rick Wayne

The story fea­tured by St. Lu­cia News On­line on March 15 this year was head­lined “Easy Sky To Op­er­ate Flights Be­tween St. Lu­cia, Gre­nada, An­tigua, Cuba and Hon­duras.” The cap­tion to an ac­com­pa­ny­ing pho­to­graph of the com­pany's two Boe­ing 737/500 air­crafts said: “Hon­duras-based air­line Easy Sky, which last year signed an agree­ment with Caribbean Agency-BEDY Travel, is pleased to an­nounce the ar­rival of its first flight from Hon­duras into St. Lu­cia on March 31, 2016 at He­wanorra In­ter­na­tional Air­port with a re­turn flight to Havana, Cuba on April 1, 2016.”

Ad­di­tion­ally, that the air­line has “a flight ca­pac­ity of 125 pas­sen­gers.” Mr. Glenn Charle­magne was iden­ti­fied as Bedy Easy Sky's coun­try man­ager. He and his as­so­ciates had re­port­edly “rec­og­nized the need to con­nect Caribbean fam­i­lies by of­fer­ing flights from Saint Lu­cia to other des­ti­na­tions, es­pe­cially be­tween Hon­duras and Cuba.” Round-trip air­fare was listed as “$1890.00 in­clu­sive of all taxes.”

Ac­cord­ing to nor­mally re­li­able lo­cal avi­a­tion sources, about 7.10 pm last Satur­day, Flight 737-5YO landed at He­wanorra from Cuba with 70 pas­sen­gers. Lo­cal agents had on Wed­nes­day no­ti­fied SLASPA, Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms au­thor­i­ties of the plane's ar­rival time. It was sup­posed to be the first of a sched­uled bi-weekly tourist flight. Two days later the au­thor­i­ties were in­formed of a change in flight plans. Flight 737-5YO would still be ar­riv­ing at He­wanorra but not from Hon­duras. In­stead the air­craft would be com­ing from Cuba. Per­mis­sion to land was de­nied but it seems the lo­cal agent was not in­formed.

Flight 737-5YO ar­rived at He­wanorra but pas­sen­gers were not per­mit­ted to dis­em­bark, at any rate for five hours while fran­tic phone calls were made to var­i­ous of­fi­cials. To no avail. The po­lice com­mis­sioner, who is the chief im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cer, con­firmed the de­ci­sion not to al­low the 70 pas­sen­gers en­try, on the ground that agents had sub­mit­ted their doc­u­ments too late.

As I say, the pi­lot hav­ing ex­ceeded his fly­ing hours, he was al­lowed with his crew and pas­sen­gers to dis­em­bark. All were ac­com­mo­dated at nearby Sky­way Inn. They flew out on Sun­day. But much spec­u­la­tion sur­rounds the mys­tery flight. Some have sug­gested the pas­sen­gers were Cubans seek­ing to make their way to the United States and that the lo­cal po­lice com­mis­sioner “got his or­ders from off-is­land of­fi­cials.”

Other sources who re­quested anonymity claimed “the U.S. has al­ways main­tained its moles on the force . . . they kept U.S. Em­bassy of­fi­cials abreast of things be­fore and af­ter IMPACS and they con­tinue to keep the em­bassy in­formed.”

Unan­swered is the ques­tion why the plane was given per­mis­sion to land if lo­cal au­thor­i­ties planned to deny pas­sen­gers reg­u­lar vis­i­tor priv­i­leges. Which begs the next ques­tion: Were Flight 737-5YO's pas­sen­gers reg­u­lar tourists?

It was no easy mat­ter but I fi­nally was able to reach some­one con­nected to this story who was pre­pared to talk to me. Or so I thought. I called the num­ber sup­plied me and a man with an ac­cent most cer­tainly not Saint Lu­cian an­swered.

“Are you Brian Ross?” I asked. His tone sud­denly sounded ner­vous. “Who you?” I was taken off guard. It had been some time since I had to tell my name to some­one on the phone. Aha, I thought, sens­ing I'd hit pay dirt.

I iden­ti­fied my­self but the gen­tle­man on the other end of the line still hadn't a clue who the heck was Rick Wayne. He was equally lost when I men­tioned TALK and the STAR. So I pushed in an­other di­rec­tion. “I do a weekly TV show and I'm the pub­lisher of a lo­cal news­pa­per,” I said. “Are you Brian Ross?”

He said he was and I asked whether he was one of us. You know, “100 per­cent Saint Lu­cian!” He said he was not and I quickly in­vited him to tell me his con­nec­tion with Flight 7305YO.

“Ahhh,” he groaned. “You should talk with my lawyer.” He sup­plied a name and num­bers. Imag­ine my amaze­ment (amuse­ment, may be more pre­cise) when the lawyer turned out to be Mr. Lorenzo Fran­cis, aka for­mer at­tor­ney gen­eral, known more widely as Doddy.

We'd not spo­ken in a while. Three or four years at least. But that was not the rea­son I failed at first to rec­og­nize his voice. Ap­par­ently Mr. Fran­cis has been cop­ing with a bad chest in­fec­tion. Some­how he man­aged to fill me in on the strange story of Flight 730-5YO. In essence: Ben­jamin Ross is the Cuban CEO of a lo­cally based com­pany Bedy Travel, barely con­nected with the story I was track­ing. By all Doddy told me, ar­range­ments for trans­port­ing a planeload of Cubans were made, wait for it, by “a guy in Mi­ami and a par­tic­u­lar ground han­dler at He­wanorra,” con­se­quently the screw-ups that led to last Satur­day's in­ci­dent. Some­thing tells me we've not heard the last of this mat­ter!

Sev­enty Cubans were forced to sit for five hours aboard Flight 737-5YO last Satur­day evening when He­wanorra of­fi­cials de­nied them the cour­te­sies usu­ally ac­corded reg­u­lar visi­tors!

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