A Tragic Story in the North

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Last week, the news was full of the missing IBANAT plane, an Air Tractor 802 out on a reconnaissance flight as part of this year’s firefighting campaign. A seemingly normal flight that was three quarters of an hour in, suddenly lost contact. From 18:08 last Tuesday (12th June) the plane could not be traced nor the pilot’s mobile contactable. It took 3 days and the largest search and rescue operation seen in recent history on the islands until the plane was found 62m below the sea just west of Cala Sant Vicente. It involved no less than a dozen ships and aircraft, and more than 300 people belonging to different agencies, in a great coordination effort. In the end it was the Navy Ship ‘Tajo’ that located the sunken plane late on Friday. 

On Monday the autopsy proved that the 46-year-old pilot, Antonio Alfaro, died due to a blow to the head and mercifully would have died instantly as his plane landed onto the rough sea. The autopsy showed no sign of drowning. The results support the theory that he died when his plane hit the sea as he tried to conduct a splashdown landing. This would have been a very complicated manoeuvre, the plane has a fixed landing gear, which increases the chances of overturning when trying to slide onto the water. Also, adverse sea conditions would have made it even more difficult; the waves were at force 6 and the clash against the sea would have been very violent. 

The aircraft, which was split in two, has been transferred to a hangar to be analysed in detail by investigators. They will be looking into why the aircraft ended up in the sea when everything appeared to be normal. They will also be looking into the failure of the emergency beacon which was not activated and delayed the recovery of the plane. The investigation will be a two-pronged approach. On the one hand, Guardia Civil officers will be looking at reasons as to why this happened, on the other the Commission for Investigation of Accidents and Incidents of Civil Aviation will prepare a purely technical report. 

Speaking to press on Monday, the pilot’s brother Noel Alfaro said that “The island honoured my brother in life and death… Antonio was happy living and working here.” He also thanked the huge operation deployed to find him and his plane.