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