Missing chopper found

A Surinamese helicopter, which was reported missing by aviation officials on Thursday evening, was found intact and the craft was stranded on a sand bank in the Mazaruni area late last evening after it ran out of fuel.

Public Works Minister, Robeson Benn told Stabroek News yesterday that the crew of the helicopter was at Quartz Stone in the Cuyuni area and the men were awaiting a change in weather conditions to venture out of the area. Earlier, Director General of the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), Zulficar Mohammed said that the craft, bearing US registration N919BH, had deviated from its original track on Thursday evening due to bad weather. It was chartered by a Canadian mining company to conduct surveys in the interior.

The helicopter arrived in Guyana on Thursday from the Zorg- en-Hoop airfield in Suriname and it departed the Ogle aerodrome around 1pm for the community of Issanno. The craft left the interior location for the CJIA at Timehri sometime after 5 pm but failed to arrive at its destination after an estimated one-hour flying time.

Sources within the industry told this newspaper last evening that the crew on-board was desperately attempting to brave deteriorating weather conditions to venture out of the Quartz Stone area but low fuel added to their woes. The craft was reportedly in the air when the fuel problem was discovered.

Reports are after encountering bad weather on Thursday evening, the pilots of the helicopter, known as the Bulkow, deviated to the Quartz Stone area but could not contact the Control Tower after experiencing communication hiccups. The crew walked for several hours in the interior location, and it later made contact with the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) late that evening. On board the aircraft were officials of a Canadian mining company as well as GDF Captain Weeks, a recently trained pilot.

A Search and Rescue team, which coincidently undertook table top exercises in search and rescue early Thursday, was activated at the Control Tower as widespread checks were undertaken to determine the location of the chopper.

Aviation sources told this newspaper yesterday that the ability of the national search and rescue response to emergencies have been put to the test, noting that the two B206 army helicopters are “technically handicapped” where responding to emergencies at night and in bad weather conditions are concerned.

It was noted that had the army activated its Bell 412 helicopter, which according to army sources has been declared ‘airworthy,’ in response to the current situation, the stranded crew would have been in a “more comfortable state.” The army is currently negotiating the sale of the Bell 412 helicopter, which was put up for sale more than a year ago. (Alva Solomon)

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