Screen_Shot_2014-01-31_at_3.23.07_PMThe residents of Crooked Tree Village are still reeling in from the tragic boat collision that occurred early this morning that resulted in the death of one young man and several others injured. The accident being referred to by many as a freak incident is under a full investigation by police, National Coast Guard Service and the Belize Port Authority. Whether the collision was the result of human error or mechanical failure is yet to be known. In the meantime an entire community is outraged as they believe it could have been prevented. Reporter Dalila Ical and Video Journalist Jesus Melgar filed the following report.


Dalila Ical – Reporting


At least three ambulances responded to the boat collision along the Crooked Tree causeway. The accident occurred about midway along a two mile water route that the Belize Coast Guard boats access to ferry residents to and from Crooked Tree Village. Chiarman Darrel Tillett was among the first responders.

 

Darrell Tillett – Chairman


“We saw people help people stretching on the side of the cross way and a lot of people crying for him and for their family.”

 

It was a routine operation that was without incident until about five twenty this morning. The captain of a 37 foot skiff was returning to the village but turned back for something or to do something with those of the smaller vessel that was ferrying eleven persons, mostly students, and that’s when tragedy struck.

 

A full investigation has been launched and it is still too early to know what went wrong, but Vice Commandant of the Belize Coast Guard, Commander Elton Bennett says they are looking at every detail.

 

Commander Elton Bennett – Vice Commandant, Belize Coast Guard


“We are also looking for a possible mechanical failure and we looking at the human errors and the decisions leading up to make that decision to approach the other vessel. Both vessels were heading in the same direction, the smaller vessel was ahead and then the larger vessel came from behind and approach it to an angle as though coming into dock alongside the vessel and it was then the collision occurred.”

 

Twenty year old Benjamin Gentle Junior was badly hurt and at least eight others sustained varying levels of injuries. The small vessel was chipped at several areas and it is believed that it was the fibre glass that struck Gentle, fatally wounding him.

 

Commander Bennett says the vessels used are suitable for the type of operation in the area but adds that they are worked hard. Since October last year, these vessels ferry three to five hundred persons and even goods on a daily basis and use 250 gallons of fuel every two weeks.

 


Commander Elton Bennett – Vice Commandant, Belize Coast Guard


“The engines are working hard we try to rotate the vessels at least every two weeks but the mechanical failure could be a genuine failure we believe that it is a possible a case of bad timing.”

Police, the Belize Port Authority and the Coast Guard Service are conducting the investigation. So far, no one has been detained but if the need arises, Commander Bennett says they will do what’s necessary.

 

Commander Elton Bennett – Vice Commandant, Belize Coast Guard


“If the investigations show that the cause of the accident was human error then the recommendations that will be made by the investigation team more than likely if possible disciplinary action if required.”

 

Chaos followed the collision as many responded to the scene. Among them was his brother Ines Gentle.

 


Screen_Shot_2014-01-31_at_8.31.40_PMDalila ical – Reporter


“When you got out there what was it like?”

 

Ines Gentle

 

“Well, I didn’t see the body or nothing they never wanted me to see but I see everybody crying and I never believe that.”

 

Gentle succumbed to his injuries on the spot. Two of the students were transported to the Northern Regional Hospital for treatment and the rest to the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital.

 

It is a tragedy that has shaken a rather closely knit community. Gentle’s past teacher Verla Jex is still in disbelief.

 

VerlaJex – Past Teacher


“I remember him as a Poet; he was very poetic and could express himself and he won an award at the Bliss Centre for the Performing Arts for the school and he recited a poem Banana Man and so I would say hat he was one of the best students that we had.”

 

Steve Anthony Perriott


“He was a young man that we all had a lot of hopes in, he was a good student and he got a job, he was working and he was helping out his home and he be greatly missed.”

 

By mid-morning, nine counsellors from the Ministry of Education were brought into the village to speak with at least twenty students who witnessed the accident and the family of the deceased. Jex assisted with the visits.

 

VerlaJex – Past Teacher


“I was just over at the clinic and after the counselling they are feeling better but this morning when they arrived from across the lagoon they were pretty shaken up, well I can say all of them were crying and there was a Pastor waiting for them and we gathered them in a circle and prayed for them and so it good that he was right there.”

 

And the loss is something that even the Coast Guard personnel resent.


Commander Elton Bennett – Vice Commandant, Belize Coast Guard


“Am…if we can apologize for such a thing it is sad to know that we lost a life and we continue to support the family in any way possible.”

 

Steve Anthony Perriott


“We as a village just want everybody to know that we appreciate what the Coast Guards have been doing, we appreciate what Audubon has been doing and this is an accident that it will be looked into but whatever the outcome we appreciate what they have done for us.”


The Belize Coast Guard personnel have been ferrying people, among them over one hundred high school students for over three months at no cost to the residents. The residents of Crooked Tree Village had scheduled an event for the Coast Guard personnel in appreciation for their services tomorrow but given the incident, it is not sure when that will be held and if it will be held as planned.

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