Jill Tallman

Night comes quickly in the Bahamas

February 10, 2014 by Jill W. Tallman, Associate Editor

Sunset in the Bahamas

Going…going…gone. The sun drops below the horizon in what seems like seconds. Night-time VFR flying is prohibited in the Bahamas.

As our group of aircraft approaches the Out Islands on Feb. 1, the pilots go in different directions. You must land at an airport of entry and clear Customs, and if you plan to travel to other islands, you must obtain a cruising permit first. Some of our group head to Grand Bahama or Andros, but most of us plan to land at New Bight Airport on Cat Island, where we’ll be staying.

The rescue mission to pick up two stranded VFR pilots pushed our departure from St. Lucie County Airport in Fort Pierce, Fla., to the afternoon. As we head toward Cat Island, the sun is beginning to sink lower on the horizon. In the United States, this wouldn’t be a problem. In the Bahamas, it’s a cause for concern. Night-time VFR is prohibited, and with good reason. There are very few lights to be seen on the islands, and when the daylight ends, it ends rather abruptly. The dark sky blends seamlessly into the ocean, providing no artificial horizon. And there are very few airports with instrument approaches.

When we land at New Bight just before sunset, we realize that one of the airplanes hasn’t made it to Cat Island. After a few anxious moments, we learn that the pilot decided to land at Rock Sound Airport on Eleuthera so as not to push daylight. It was a smart decision. He and his passengers cleared Customs and were able to locate a one-night apartment rental. They enjoyed a meal of fresh grouper and a good night’s sleep, and joined us the next day. And this chapter caused a CFI in the group to coin a new phrase: “Bingo daylight” as opposed to “Bingo fuel.”

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5 Responses to “Night comes quickly in the Bahamas”

  1. Chris Palmer Says:

    Great decision. Thousands of these decisions are made every day. Regular every day ‘heroes’ does what they are supposed to do. It’s those that don’t which end up as statistics.

    Bingo comment.

  2. SaferAviator Says:

    All US Navy, Marine, and Coast Guard pilots air instrument rated for this very reason. Over waterproof at night is almost exclusively IMC due to the lack of a horizon. I applaud this pilot for a good decision and for finding what was surely a great meal!

  3. Joiy Holder Retired Captain Says:

    Eastern Flight 401, Ship no 310, a L-1011 experience same IMC conditions over the Everglades in Florida. The results, many deaths. Night can turn IMC at any time even on a clear night.

    Wise decision in the Bahamas. Bingo Night sounds like a good phrase to be aware of. Bingo fuel can also be a problem after a overnight stay in many of the airports in the BH. Be sure to check your fuel before you leave. I have had this happen to me only after a short 45 minute flight from FLL to Freeport with full fuel and find in the morning tanks empty. The plane was parked in full sight of the tower.

  4. john stetson Says:

    as a retired Eastern pilot there is so much more that caused EAL 401 to go down. It was not just night time, it was a combination of so many mistakes, way to long to list here. Read the books about it.

  5. John Malloy Says:

    For Capt Joey Holder and anyone else who flies to smaller Bahama airports:

    I have a Commercial, Inst, SMEL license. Many years ago I cleared Customs at Nassau and topped off my rented Piper Arrow there. I then flew to nearby Norman Key for an overnight stay.
    The next morning revealed the wing tanks in my Arrow had only enough fuel to return to Nassau to refuel again.
    Fuel thieves abound in the Bahamas due to the haphazard schedule of fuel barges. I was told that “kids” flying 172s had helped themselves to my fuel. Fortunately a Beech Baron pilot gave me 5 gal from his airplane to permit a safe return to Nassau.
    Apparently nothing has changed over the years. Pilots to the Out Islands should keep this potentially dangerous fuel problem in mind.

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