Two US Men Disappeared In Bahamian Territory
By Benito Torres
It is the scene that all families hope they never have to live through. Three women; namely Jeanette Alicea, Ivette Alicea and Olga Feliciano sit desperately hopeful by the telephone waiting for a call that with any luck will not come too late. They are the mother, wife and grandmother, respectively, of Richard Alicea, who together with Edwin Pritchard, left on a fishing trip in Richard’s boat (17' Key Largo) to the island of Bimini, in the Bahamas on December 12th 2009 and have never been seen or heard from again by their loved ones. Alicea is of Puerto Rican descent and Pritchard is of Bahamian descent.
The following day, when there was no news of them, Edwin Pritchard’s brother, Dole, who lives in the Bahamas, contacted his brother, Gregory, in the United States. Gregory then notified the US Coast Guard, (USCG) which began a search the night of December 13th from the Florida Keys to Port Canaveral.
On Sunday, December 13th at 1:00 p.m. two men were spotted on a deserted island south of Great Harbor Cay in the Bahamas, by passengers on a plane in route from Great Harbor Cay to Chub Cay. Larry Ottmane of Gulfstream Connection Airlines piloted the plane. The Pilot immediately contacted the Great Harbor Police department, Great Harbor Customs and Chub Cay Customs by radio and informed them of the two men. Photographs taken by passengers on the plane showed two men waving their arms and an SOS inscribed on the sand.
The Bahamian Authorities never informed the US Coast Guard about the two men spotted on the Island on the December 13th. Art Stevenson from Gulfstream Connection Airlines informed the Coast Guard on Tuesday, December 15th. The Coast Guard then initiated a walkthrough of the island and found no one on Tuesday, December 15.
The family was contacted on Wednesday, December 16 by the US Coast Guard and told the local media was going to report on the photographs taken of two men, but that the family should disregard the report because they (USCG) had walked through the island and found no one.
The families viewed the photos and are convinced that the men in the photos are Richard and Edwin. The two men in the photographs are the same height, complexion and body build of Richard and Edwin. The photos were taken the same day they were reported missing, in the area they were sailing. The family received calls from some of the passengers on the flight that witnessed the SOS on the sand, who called to show their concern and support and stated that they were certain the men were Richard and Edwin. Where are these men?
On Thursday, December 17th the family called the US Embassy in the Bahamas and opened up a case for missing citizen, and asked the US Embassy for help finding their loved ones.
Having covered 47,000 miles of ocean over six (6) days the US Coast Guard officially called off the search on December 19, 2009.
The family set up a call center and contacted several hospitals and jails.
On Saturday, December 19th the women contacted Chris Lloyd from the Bahamian Air & Rescue Authority (BASRA) via email and he confirmed there were indeed individuals removed from the island in question. Chris Lloyd said the individuals were investigated and had no relation to Alicea and Pritchard. Where and who were these men? Why was the story about these rescued men not reported in the Bahamian media? Where is the police report?
On the December 21stGary Simmons of the Ocean Rescue & Recovery used by the Bahamian Police was also contacted. He informed the women that on December 17th he recovered a “Greaty White” boat from the island. Who owned this boat? This is not the boat Alicea and Pritchard were using.
When contacted on December 21st, Corporal Gibson of the Royal Bahamas Police Force read off a report stating that on Sunday, December 13th they went to the island with a nurse to search by foot. Since it was dark the same people went back the following day and no one was found. Times and day confirmations were not stated for accuracy.
It was now time for the families to try to do something on their own. On Tuesday, December 22nd, four men went to the Bahamas to see if they could find any useful information. The group was composed of Richard Alicea’s brother Jason, Edwin Pritchard’s brother Gregory, a friend named Jesus Estevez and WSFL news reporter Alex Zequeira.
Upon arrival the four men, spoke to Ronnie Brown referred by Garry Simmons (Ocean Rescue) that took them to the island and had allegedly done the same for Inspector Moss the week prior. The odd thing was that Brown did not seem to know where the island was. If it weren't for pictures that Jesus Estevez had of the island they might have never found it. Brown also stated that he had taken pictures on Sunday, but when reviewed the camera had pictures showing Monday's date only.
The four men expedition became the third group to walk the island. Contrary to the other two groups (Bahamian Police and US Coast Guard) the men did not end up empty handed. They recovered a Magma cutting board that Gregory Pritchard had installed on the boat two days prior to the two missing men’s departure on their trip. There were other personal effects such as water bottles, gum wrappers and clothes they might have used to flag for help. They brought everything back with them hoping someone could find fingerprints or DNA to verify that Richard and Edwin were on the island.
The men then proceeded to speak with those who had participated in the Bahamian Police walk through the island:
Inspector Moss, the “investigator” refused to speak on camera or be recorded by journalist Alex Zequeira. He stated the Police was not able to walk the island on December 13th, presumably because of darkness. He added that they returned the next day and walked through the island without finding anyone. But he also stated that he went out to the island an hour after it was reported. If he went out one hour after the pilot reported it, that would have been around 2 or 3 in the afternoon, and it certainly would not have been dark at that time. Inspector Moss then refused to continue speaking claiming he was not prepared to give out any additional information.
The men also spoke to the nurse who accompanied Inspector Moss on the walk through of the island. She said they were not on the island on Sunday the 13th, but only on Monday the 14th, which conflicts with the report read by Corporal Gibson and Inspector Moss’ statement that they went out both on Sunday, and Monday.
Finally after speaking to some of the locals the men found out that 11 days after Alicea and Pritchard had gone missing no one there had ever heard any news of them. Why was the Bahamian news not informed of the missing boaters in case anyone had any information? The men returned home on Thursday, December 24th with no answers and more questions than prior to taking off. The feeling sank in; for these two families there would be no Merry Christmas 2009.
Faxes and emails were sent all over the Bahamas offering a $5,000 reward for information on their whereabouts and safe return home. Still no responses, still they sit by the phone. New Year’s Eve was very tearful and heart wrenching.
Mr. Livingston Stewart, uncle of Edwin Pritchard contacted his friend of many years, Mr. Tommy Turnquest, Minister of National Security of the Bahamas. Mr. Livingston said that a meeting would be set up for both families with Minister Turnquest and an investigation would follow. To this date no meeting and no confirmation that an investigation has started.
On January 5th the family contacted the office of Senator Bill Nelson. They filed the necessary paperwork and were promised to be called back. Still waiting for a response.
That same day the family spoke to the lead investigator on the missing persons case in Miami-Dade County, Detective Byrd. They informed the detective about the photos and the personal effects the four men expedition had brought back and requested the items be analyzed in order to verify that the two men photographed on the island were Richie and Edwin. Detective Byrd said it would be difficult since we don’t know how many people have touched the evidence. On January 5, 2010 evidence was given to Detective Byrd and DNA Sample. Waiting for results.
January 13th 2010, marks a month since the disappearance and the families continue to wait for information. Hopefully, the information is positive and the two missing men are alive and well and coming home very soon. Unfortunately it could be negative and they have died. It could also be somewhere in between those two extremes.
Where is the concern, kindness, understanding and caring from the Bahamian authorities or U.S. authorities? When contacted the question most asked by the authorities is, “What do you want us to do?" Our answer is we want you to help us find out what happened to Richard and Edwin.
Families need to know the truth so that they can make decisions about how to help a family member in need or how to best honor his or her memory. Not knowing and not being able to make any appropriate decisions is the worst possible situation. Forgetting is simply not an option.
If it appears that this piece is not as impartial as most and that the writer has more self invested in it than usual, it is because I, Benito Torres, am an uncle of Cuchito, as his great grandmother called him. Together we are asking you to call Jeanette Alicea at 786-252-3535 with any information or helpful suggestion. Also call Nicole A. Avant, US Ambassador to the Bahamas at 242-322-1181. Ask her to intercede with the Bahamian authorities on behalf of Richard Alicea and Edwin Pritchard.