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Sep 6, 2005

August 24 Festivities Cancelled

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The celebration of the Saint Barthélemy Feast Day on August 24 was cancelled this year as that date was designated a national day of mourning by French president Jacques Chirac in memory of the victims of the airplane crash in Venezuela that took more than 100 French lives.

On August 16, the news media reported that a Colombian charter plane from the company West Caribbean Airways had crashed in Maracaibo in the Northwest part of Venezuela, with no survivors. The MD-82 carried 152 French citizens from Martinique, an island located to the south of Guadeloupe, plus eight Colombian crew members. The entire population of France, especially the residents of Martinique and Guadeloupe as well as the West Indian community in metropolitan France, was shaken by the loss of this group from Martinique that had gone to Panama on vacation.

More than 25,000 people dressed in black and white, the colors of mourning, paid tribute to the victims during a very somber ceremony that took place on August 24 in the Dillon stadium, the largest sports stadium in Martinique. French president Jacques Chirac attended and was accompanied by Overseas Minister François Baroin. Also present were Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, Serge Letchimy, the mayor of Fort-de-France, and other political figures. During the ceremony, 160 children placed candles at the base of the altar in the mortuary chapel where numerous floral wreaths were decorated with photos of the 160 victims. Throughout France, all flags on public buildings were flown at half-mast and a special mass was held at the Cathedral of Notre Dame. To aid and support the families involved, the Overseas Minister announced that a request for donations was launched by the Foundation of France.

On August 28, following this accident, which took place in a period where deathly air crashes are multiplying, the director of the civil aviation office published a list if airlines that are not authorized to fly into French territory. Among the five companies cited was Air St. Thomas, an airline that served St. Barth until 2004. In fact, on March 19, 2004 the civil aviation authority decided to suspend the authorization for this airline after several aviation incidents and motor problems encountered during landings on the tarmac at the airport in Saint Jean.

In Saint Barth on the morning of August 24, there was a memorial mass for the victims at the Catholic Church in Gustavia. The next day, the village of Corossol celebrated Saint Louis, their patron saint. The day’s activities included a mass at the foot of a large rock that holds a statue of Saint Louis, and various tournaments (fishing, cards, foosball, beach volleyball), various regattas (laser and traditional sailboats), games on the beach, a champagne toast, a dance concert by young girls from the neighborhood, a raffle, and dancing. The fete of Gustavia was postpone from August 20 and 21 and held instead the following weekend, when the annual event for the island’s senior citizens was also held on August 28. The golden agers met at the school canteen in Gustavia for lunch followed by an afternoon of games and dancing. A fireworks display closed both the fete of Gustavia, the final event in the summer program of festivities on the island.

Cécile Lucot


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