Firefighters arrested after cash, items stolen from crashed Toronto-bound plane in Guyana

Firefighters arrested after cash, items stolen from crashed Toronto-bound plane in Guyana
Canadian passenger alleges firefighters stole his phone and $1,000 from plane that crash-landed in Guyana
His cellphone, power cords and keys had all been stolen from his carry-on luggage — as had more than $1,000 he’d been carrying in American cash.

Bedessee, a 48-year-old businessman from Pickering, Ont., believes his possessions were taken by firefighters who were called to attend to Fly Jamaica Flight OJ256, which careened past the end of the runway and stopped just short of a steep embankment at a Guyanese airport around 2:30 a.m. local time last Friday after a mechanical issue compelled the pilot to turn the plane around and make an emergency landing. Six people were injured, but no one died.

Police in Guyana said this week that a dozen firefighters were arrested on Friday for allegedly stealing from some of the 120 passengers who were on the flight, as well as from the pilot and crew members.

While the two friends with whom he travelled to Guyana still haven’t been able to return home, Bedessee managed to catch a flight to Toronto via Trinidad on Saturday. Wracked with nerves, he said in an interview on Monday that he hasn’t gotten much sleep and has been shaking persistently.

“Material things, I don’t really care (about). Those things can be replaced,” Bedessee said. “But my mental health is not the best right now.”

Bedessee was one of 82 Canadians aboard the Fly Jamaica aircraft when it left Cheddi Jagan International Airport near Georgetown, the Guyanese capital, 40 minutes after its scheduled departure time. Crew members had struggled for a while before takeoff to close the front door of the plane, and 10 minutes after they made it into the air, the pilot announced that a hydraulic malfunction was forcing him to circle back to the airport.

As the plane approached ground level, the landing gear deployed properly and the touchdown was comfortable, Bedessee recalled. But it soon became evident that the brakes weren’t slowing the plane’s forward momentum. Bedessee said the aircraft blew down the runway over spikes that popped a couple of its tires. Part of the landing gear tore off; so did the right wing.

The plane swerved to the right, smashed through a chain-link fence and stopped in a pile of sand three metres away from the edge of a ravine. The drop-off from there was another nine to 12 metres.

“Only with the light of dawn were we aware of how close we were to that ravine and how close we came to be a statistic of airline tragedies,” another passenger, Cyril Bryan of Toronto, said in an email.

Ordered to evacuate by inflatable slide, Bedessee left his knapsack and another bag at his seat in business class. He said the plane began to emit smoke five to 10 minutes after he got outside. As firefighters were summoned, he gave his contact information to the flight crew, went to a hotel to eat and shower and later returned to Cheddi Jagan around 1 p.m.

It took until 5 p.m. for a customs agent to retrieve his luggage, at which point Bedessee, rifling through the knapsack to find his inhaler, noticed that his cash, keys, chargers and the iPhone he uses for travel were all missing.

Guyana Police Force Assistant Commissioner Marlon Chapman, who oversees the division that is investigating the alleged thefts aboard the plane, said officers detained 12 firefighters on Friday after finding in their possession phones, cash, jewelry and other items that appeared to belong to passengers and crew members. Chapman wouldn’t say if police plan to lay charges, but noted that there are no other suspects.

When asked what action, if any, Global Affairs Canada plans to take in response to reports of theft on the flight, a department spokesperson said in an email that, “Canadian consular officials are in contact with local authorities and stand ready to provide consular assistance to Canadian citizens if needed.”

Bedessee, meanwhile, said he and a group of fellow Canadian passengers are considering a class action lawsuit against Fly Jamaica to seek damages for the stress of the ordeal. He’s also waiting for his travel partners to be able to fly out of Guyana, hopefully by this weekend. He said one of them is a man in his 70s who had his passport and phone stolen off the crashed plane.

As he waited for his bags last Friday afternoon, Bedessee called his travel agent and asked to be booked on the next flight to Canada. It left Guyana on Saturday morning, and save for a hiccup during a layover in Trinidad when a mechanical problem, of all things, forced him to change planes, the journey was smooth. It was a relief for a man who’d cried at his seat before takeoff, troubled by what had happened a day earlier.

“The passenger beside me gave me a little comfort,” Bedessee said. “He just said, ‘Take a deep breath — relax, relax.’”

Guyanese police said 12 firefighters were arrested after officers found in their possession items that appeared to belong to passengers and crew

When he finally got his luggage back late in the afternoon, after surviving a crash landing and spending the next 14 hours without his asthma medication, Invor Bedessee discovered that his ill-starred flight home to Canada from Guyana had one last nasty surprise left in store for him.

His cellphone, power cords and keys had all been stolen from his carry-on luggage — as had more than $1,000 he’d been carrying in American cash.

Bedessee, a 48-year-old businessman from Pickering, Ont., believes his possessions were taken by firefighters who were called to attend to Fly Jamaica Flight OJ256, which careened past the end of the runway and stopped just short of a steep embankment at a Guyanese airport around 2:30 a.m. local time last Friday after a mechanical issue compelled the pilot to turn the plane around and make an emergency landing. Six people were injured, but no one died.

Police in Guyana said this week that a dozen firefighters were arrested on Friday for allegedly stealing from some of the 120 passengers who were on the flight, as well as from the pilot and crew members.

While the two friends with whom he travelled to Guyana still haven’t been able to return home, Bedessee managed to catch a flight to Toronto via Trinidad on Saturday. Wracked with nerves, he said in an interview on Monday that he hasn’t gotten much sleep and has been shaking persistently.

“Material things, I don’t really care (about). Those things can be replaced,” Bedessee said. “But my mental health is not the best right now.”

Bedessee was one of 82 Canadians aboard the Fly Jamaica aircraft when it left Cheddi Jagan International Airport near Georgetown, the Guyanese capital, 40 minutes after its scheduled departure time. Crew members had struggled for a while before takeoff to close the front door of the plane, and 10 minutes after they made it into the air, the pilot announced that a hydraulic malfunction was forcing him to circle back to the airport.

As the plane approached ground level, the landing gear deployed properly and the touchdown was comfortable, Bedessee recalled. But it soon became evident that the brakes weren’t slowing the plane’s forward momentum. Bedessee said the aircraft blew down the runway over spikes that popped a couple of its tires. Part of the landing gear tore off; so did the right wing.

The plane swerved to the right, smashed through a chain-link fence and stopped in a pile of sand three metres away from the edge of a ravine. The drop-off from there was another nine to 12 metres.

“Only with the light of dawn were we aware of how close we were to that ravine and how close we came to be a statistic of airline tragedies,” another passenger, Cyril Bryan of Toronto, said in an email.

The Fly Jamaica plane that crash-landed and overshot the runway at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport in Guyana on Nov. 9. Adrian Narine / AP

Ordered to evacuate by inflatable slide, Bedessee left his knapsack and another bag at his seat in business class. He said the plane began to emit smoke five to 10 minutes after he got outside. As firefighters were summoned, he gave his contact information to the flight crew, went to a hotel to eat and shower and later returned to Cheddi Jagan around 1 p.m.

It took until 5 p.m. for a customs agent to retrieve his luggage, at which point Bedessee, rifling through the knapsack to find his inhaler, noticed that his cash, keys, chargers and the iPhone he uses for travel were all missing.

Guyana Police Force Assistant Commissioner Marlon Chapman, who oversees the division that is investigating the alleged thefts aboard the plane, said officers detained 12 firefighters on Friday after finding in their possession phones, cash, jewelry and other items that appeared to belong to passengers and crew members. Chapman wouldn’t say if police plan to lay charges, but noted that there are no other suspects.

When asked what action, if any, Global Affairs Canada plans to take in response to reports of theft on the flight, a department spokesperson said in an email that, “Canadian consular officials are in contact with local authorities and stand ready to provide consular assistance to Canadian citizens if needed.”

Invor Bedessee is shown with his mother, Evelyn, at his home on Nov. 12. Peter J. Thompson / National Post

Bedessee, meanwhile, said he and a group of fellow Canadian passengers are considering a class action lawsuit against Fly Jamaica to seek damages for the stress of the ordeal. He’s also waiting for his travel partners to be able to fly out of Guyana, hopefully by this weekend. He said one of them is a man in his 70s who had his passport and phone stolen off the crashed plane.

As he waited for his bags last Friday afternoon, Bedessee called his travel agent and asked to be booked on the next flight to Canada. It left Guyana on Saturday morning, and save for a hiccup during a layover in Trinidad when a mechanical problem, of all things, forced him to change planes, the journey was smooth. It was a relief for a man who’d cried at his seat before takeoff, troubled by what had happened a day earlier.

“The passenger beside me gave me a little comfort,” Bedessee said. “He just said, ‘Take a deep breath — relax, relax.’”