Emotional visit to Barbados for son of pilot of bombed Cubana plane
by Stabroek editor
Oct. 3, 2011
Reprinted from Stabroek News (Georgetown, Guyana)
(Barbados Nation) Wilfredo Pérez Jr has mixed feelings about his trip to Barbados – on one hand he feels genuine sympathy and acceptance but on the other, the pain of reliving the worst day of his life.
If the name sounds familiar to those who have first-hand knowledge of the events of October 6, 1976, then that is no coincidence.
Wilfredo Pérez, pilot of Cubana Flight 455
Pérez shares his name with the pilot of that fateful plane trip now known as the Cubana air disaster. He is in fact the son of that pilot, and he is here to take part in a week of activities in commemoration of that tragedy.
“When I was informed I would be coming I thought it would be a difficult trip as it would mean having to relive those sad feelings of that time,” he told the DAILY NATION after a special service yesterday at St Mary’s Anglican Church, The City, a few hours after arriving in Barbados.
Eleven minutes after take-off from the then Seawell Airport [now the Grantley Adams International Airport] at an altitude of 18 000 feet, two bombs exploded on board that fateful flight.
The plane went into a rapid descent, while the pilots unsuccessfully tried to return the plane to the airport. The captain, Wilfredo Pérez Sr, realizing this was impossible, turned the craft away from the beach and towards the Atlantic Ocean, saving the lives of many tourists. The crash occurred about eight kilometres short of the airport.
All 73 passengers and five crew members aboard the plane died: 57 Cubans, 11 Guyanese, and five North Koreans.
Among the dead were all 24 members of the 1975 national Cuban fencing team that had just won all gold medals in the Central American and Caribbean Championship Games, as well as several officials of the Cuban Government.
Five of the 11 Guyanese passengers were travelling to Cuba to study medicine while the five Koreans included government officials and a cameraman.
Speaking with the help of Cuban consul Orestes Hernandez, who translated much of the conversation, Pérez Jr told of his feelings at the time of the tragedy and how it changed his life.
“I was 17 when it happened. Those were very terrible days which means when I think about that I have to think about those terrible days but now I am a psychologist helping others through similar ordeals,” he said.
Pérez, now 51 years old, said he juggles helping others with treating himself as sometimes he still struggles with his feelings from that time. However, he said his job was like self-therapy as dealing with other people’s problems helped him deal with his own.
As for his trip to Barbados so far, Pérez said he was impressed with the church service, especially when Reverend Dr Marcus Lashley expressed his sympathy, and by the respect shown to the memories of those who died.