Dominicans demand government solve plane mystery

AP News
Posted: Dec 15, 2009 5:10 PM

Relatives of 11 migrant workers who boarded a small plane that vanished over the Atlantic Ocean a year ago are demanding that the Dominican government investigate what happened.

"We've had 365 days of pain, despair and helplessness. No one can express the feeling, because you can't measure pain," Angela Amparo, the mother of one of those aboard the chartered plane, said Tuesday at a news conference in Santo Domingo.

Marina Herrera, whose brother is among those missing, said the twin-engine Britten Norman left Santiago on the afternoon of Dec. 15, 2008, heading northwest toward the Bahamas to later depart for the U.S.

About 35 minutes after takeoff, pilot Adriano Jimenez sent an emergency signal to Providenciales International Airport in the Turks and Caicos Islands, according to a report from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.

The plane then disappeared from radar.

U.S. federal officials believe it plunged into the ocean about 12 nautical miles south of West Caicos island, but no debris or bodies were ever found.

In a telephone interview, Herrera said the families need answers from the Dominican government. "We have knocked on different doors and have obtained no answer, no clue," she said. "We are devastated."

Her brother, Ronulfo, was headed to the United States to find a job and join their younger sister, Herrera said.

It is unclear if the other passengers were also going to the U.S. and how much they had paid for the flight. Dominican authorities previously said the migrants were carrying work permits for the nearby Turks and Caicos.

Neither the Dominican Civil Aviation Institute nor the Association of Dominican Pilots returned requests for comment Tuesday. Britain's Department for Transport took over the investigation earlier this year, but had no comment.

Several days after the disappearance, Dominican authorities said Jimenez, the pilot, was allowed to take off even though he had only a U.S. student pilot's license. Officials suspended three aviation officials and detained two other pilots.

The 18-seat plane was registered to Linea Aerea Puertorriquena Inc.