Roatan’s Beauty, Truth & Wisdom

The Ill-fated Night Hawk (Part II)

When the Night Hawk sailed, it was so close to Christmas that the families did not want the men to go. Mr. Cleary Jones from Jonesville was one of the passengers. He got up Sunday morning to run a couple of errands, and when he got back home, his wife had cooked them Sunday dinner and had gone to church.

He ate some of the food she left out for him and went to his room to get his passport, but couldn’t find it. He began to search the room, and eventually found where his wife had hidden it. She did not want him to go.

When Mr. Cleary arrived in French Harbour, Mr. Jackson was still asleep. His companion Victoria Jones did not want Cleary to wake him up, as she did not want him to go on the trip either. Darwin had been up all-night drinking and was frustrated with the many delays he was experiencing Cleary Jones woke Darwin up anyway and they left and boarded the Night Hawk. By 5pm, the entire crew was present for departure: Darwin Jackson, Daniel Gómez, Cleary Jones, Roy Bodden, Felix Bodden, Dick Dixon, Sam Collins, Charles Hyde, Arlenton Godfrey, Nathan McKenzie and an American Scott Harris.

A Hybur ship sailed from French Harbor to Belize on Monday evening, December 20. When they arrived Tuesday morning, Captain Willie Elwin Inquired about the Night Hawk and was told she never docked. He called Captain Myrl Hyde in French Harbor to contact Albert Jackson and let him know that something was wrong. The Night Hawk was not in Belize. A search was organized, which included planes that flew between Roatan and the Belize Cays, but nothing was seen or found.

A few days later, some 50-gallon drums were found drifting ashore on Utila. One of the drums had the initials E.C., which stood for Evans Cooper. He owned a store in Oakridge and had sent drums to buy Kerosene in Belize on the Night Hawk. On inspection, you could see that the drums had been on fire. All kinds of rumors swirled around. One theory was that in the rush to sail, the stove fell into the sea while it was still connected. Perhaps the fuel line was not connected properly to the gasoline engine, and it either caused a fire or an explosion.

Some 50-gallon drums were found drifting ashore on Utila.

When the Night Hawk disappeared, I was in Nicaragua, shrimping at the time. When I got back home in April of 1972, the rumors about what happened were still the main topic of conversation in the small town of French Harbor. I decided to see what I could find out about what happened for myself.

I went to visit a friend, Mrs. Iva Whittaker, whom I had known since I was a child. Our families had been friends for generations. She lived on Big Bight on the North side of Roatan, on a hill with an unobstructed view of the ocean. As it got dark, she was in her yard making a fire to deter sandflies. She saw a flash on the horizon, and a fire that burned for a while. She was home alone, so no alarm was made. Big Bight was very isolated at that time, and I believed what she told me.

My theory is that when Ida saw the flash, around sunset, the men on the Night Hawk would have likely been making coffee. When they lit the stove, it exploded, causing the fire to spread very quickly. This spread instantly to the engine room, where the fuel lines and gasoline were located. This caused an even bigger explosion, which was the Flash that Ida saw, followed by the fire.

Other rumors were that they were hijacked, and the boat set ablaze. There were reports that the crew had been seen in Cuba. The Night Hawk and crew met their fate that night about ten miles north of Big Bight off the North side of Roatan.

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