HAMPSTEAD, St Mary — A splatter of blood on the dashboard of a red two-seater passenger plane crumpled among bushes in hilly terrain, and a pile of its passengers’ belongings being closely guarded by police provided chilling evidence of the tragedy that unfolded in this district Friday morning.
Within hours the news got worse as it emerged that the crash had robbed the nation of a revered son — Major Dudley Beek, former commanding officer of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) Air Wing Reserve.
Major Beek and a passenger had left Tinson Pen Aerodrome in Kingston for the Ian Fleming International Airport in St Mary at 9:03 am. The Ercoupe aircraft went down in the Ballard’s Valley area of Highgate approximately 9:30 am, the Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority (JCCA) reported.
Residents told the Jamaica Observer they went in search after hearing a loud explosion and found the small craft on the Ballard’s Valley property. Its crumpled nose was touching the ground, tail up in the air, the body supported by slender trees.
A search and rescue team comprising members of the JDF, firefighters, the Port Authority of Jamaica, and the Jamaica Constabulary Force was deployed. They found the two injured men at the crash site and had them airlifted to University Hospital of the West Indies.
Up to press time the passenger’s identity and medical condition had not been released.
Beek came from a family of pilots, among them his father and grandfather. He had almost 60 years of flying experience under his belt. In addition to being a JDF pilot he also worked in the fields of weather modification (cloud seeding), mosquito control, as well as crop fertilisation and treatment.
In 2014 he worked on a project to plant 133 million seeds in Haiti as that country collaborated with the United Nations Development Programme to reforest 100,000 acres of mountainous land.
Beek had by then already made a reputation for himself in the private sector, having established crop-dusting entity Dustair Ltd in 1984. The company initially concentrated on the planting of rice from the air, but by 2019 was focused on spraying bananas.
He was also known for flying aerobatic displays using an aircraft he helped to build in Jamaica and was cited by the industry as being committed to the revival and revitalisation of general aviation.
In 2019 he was among three stalwarts of Jamaica’s aviation industry recognised for their contribution to the sector.
On Friday his cousin, Stephan Lazarus, himself a pilot at Spirit Airlines, shared fond memories of his “Uncle Dudley” flying him and his cousins from Tinson Pen to Boscobel aerodrome in St Mary, now Ian Fleming International Airport.
“We have a flying family. We all, as children, used to fly in his planes. He used to come for us and fly us to Boscobel, as he lived pretty close to the airport, and from there we would drive to his house,” Lazarus told the Jamaica Observer.
He said that Beek was “very well known in Boscobel” and his Dustair plane was based there.
On Friday morning, curious onlookers who converged at the crash site traded stories as they craned their necks to see. One man, who only identified himself as Blackman, said he heard a loud sound but was unsure of the source as he was half asleep at the time. It was the mother of his child, he said, who broke the news of the tragedy to him.
Late Friday, the JCAA issued a release expressing its “deepest sympathies to the families and loved ones” of the crash victims.
The JCAA said that its accident investigation team was dispatched to the location to commence the field component of the investigation.
It also said that the aircraft was authorised to operate in Jamaica up to January 19, 2024.
“Both the US Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board have been advised, pursuant to notification protocols, with regard to the United States of America being the state of registry of the aircraft. The North America and Central Caribbean Office of the International Civil Aviation Organization has also been notified of the accident,” the JCAA said.