It was ‘Panamania’ at Grantley Adams International Airport yesterday when the inaugural direct flight reconnecting Panama and Barbados touched down around 2p.m.
A watery welcome from the Barbados Fire Service, followed by entertainment from a tuk band and costumed dancers, greeted excited passengers as the majority touched Barbadian soil for the first time.
Hours earlier, at Tocumen International Airport in Panama, a Barbadian voice at the controls had already stirred national pride.
“Good morning ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain Marc Holford . . . .”
It was the son of former Barbados and West Indies cricketer David Holford and his wife Marva, as he took Copa Airlines Flight CM 260 down the runway on a historic journey that would further cement ties between two countries indelibly connected by the Panama Canal experience.
He continued: “It is certainly a pleasure to be operating this flight today to Barbados. With me is Captain Chetwyn Clarke; he is also from Barbados.”
Clarke would later take the lead in flying back to Panama.
At a window seat in the main cabin behind Holford was his proud mother, being flown by him for the first time in his 22 years as a pilot, with a bird’s eye view of the flight home.
The night before, a very reserved Holford had told THE NATION though it would be another regular flight in terms of execution, it had that extra special feeling.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity, exciting. Though I’ve flown into Barbados many times [with LIAT, Redjet and others], flying my mum will be a little bit of pressure,” he said with a laugh, glancing back at her. “But I think that will be special too.”
Holford was also thrilled for Clarke.
“We worked together at LIAT . . . and we also joined Copa on the same day in July 2014. But we have never flown together on Copa because we were first officers and the captains. So it’s a great opportunity for both of us.”
Clarke, a pilot since 2007, beamed with pride and wore a broad smile at the Panama airport, his co-pilot in life, wife Lisa, at his side.
The 35-year-old former national swimmer, son of Beverley Clarke and Winston Beckles, said: “I would definitely say this is the proudest moment of my career.”
The flight took off at 10 a.m. Panama time (11 a.m. Barbados) with 144 passengers and seven crew members in the 165-seat capacity 737 jet. It passed over Colombia, Venezuela/Margarita and Grenada before touching down in Barbados at 1:50 p.m.
Again, it was Captain Holford leading the way.
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Barbados. The Fire Service will give us a special welcome . . . . Enjoy!”
Just over an hour later, after a cocktail reception in the Grace Adams Suite, Captain Clarke lifted off at the controls on the return trip.