by Charles Gladden
BELIZE CITY, Wed. Nov. 8, 2023
While some members of the Coast Guard were completing an operation at sea near the northwestern coast of Ambergris Caye on Wednesday, November 8, a horrific freak accident occurred that caused the maiming and death of one of the officers, identified as Kiman Garcia, 24, of Double Head Cabbage, Belize District.
According to reports, at around 3:00 p.m., Garcia and several other Coast Guard officers were en route to San Pedro Town after completing a three-week operation duty at the Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve, when the boat in which they were traveling hit an unknown object that was under the water, which caused the captain of the vessel to lose control of the boat and resulted in two seamen, one of whom was Garcia, being thrown overboard.
While, according to reports, the other officer received only minor injuries, Garcia was seriously injured in the head by the boat’s propeller, and one of his arms was severed. In an attempt to rescue the two men, their fellow seamen dove into the water. When they retrieved Garcia he was unconscious, and they attempted to revive him via CPR at the location.
Rear Admiral Elton Bennett, Commandant of the Belize Coast Guard, told Amandala that subsequently, arrangements were made with the emergency team at the San Pedro Polyclinic, and the SAFE boat was dispatched from San Pedro Town to transport the men to shore.
Bennett said that preparations were also being made to airlift Garcia to Belize City; however, he was pronounced dead at the San Pedro facility.
An ongoing investigation has been launched by the Belize Police Department along with the Belize Port Authority, and the Coast Guard officers who had been with Garcia at the time of the incident, remained in San Pedro Town pending investigation. Bennett said that an effort is being made to assess the circumstances that led to the fatal accident and to determine whether any human error was involved to ensure that incidents such as this one are avoided in the future.
Garcia was enlisted with the Belize Coast Guard for over five years, and when Amandala spoke with Rear Admiral Bennett, he spoke highly of the fallen seaman.
“He is a very good sailor. A quality sailor, I would say. He’s one of those individuals who understands his job very well and executes accordingly. The area of northern Ambergris Caye is where he is assigned. The crew that was onboard with him was very close. They’d been working together for an extensive period and conducting extensive operations, so it’s really hard on the crew to have suffered such an incident resulting in a loss of life,” he said.
Rear Admiral Bennett mentioned that counseling would be offered to the seamen who were onboard the vessel at the time of the incident. Since its inception in 2005, the Belize Coast Guard has not had any loss of life on an official mission, making Garcia’s death the first.
“This weighs heavy on my heart. As the Commandant of the Belize Coast Guard, it rests heavily on my shoulders that this man was out conducting the government business, and was a part of the Belize Coast Guard, on an official Coast Guard mission, in a Coast Guard uniform, in a Coast Guard vessel. [He] completed his duty and was on his way in to go home, but never made it home; so, he died in our hands, and that’s a heavy thing for me … it’s a time of mourning in the Coast Guard. We don’t suffer loss like this very often, so when death comes knocking on our door it’s a very heavy thing for us,” he said.
On Thursday afternoon, the body of Garcia was received by the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital morgue, where a postmortem examination will be conducted.
All Coast Guard flags will be flown at half-mast in honor of Garcia after his funeral, which is tentatively scheduled for November 18.
Garcia leaves behind a girlfriend and a year-and-a-half-old son.