Missing helicopter saga:Crew detained at Eve Leary overnight

The crew of a Surinamese helicopter which went missing in the hinterland on Thursday evening, were yesterday detained and questioned by law enforcement officials, shortly after arriving at the CJIA airport on Saturday.

Stabroek News understands that members of the crew with the exception of army pilot Captain Weeks, who had accompanied the crew on Thursday along with two workers of a mining company which chartered the helicopter for Thursday’s operation were detained for questioning at Police Headquarters, Eve Leary on Saturday. The men, including Canadian Dominique O’Sullivan and an Australian investor, Kevin Tomlinson, were told to report to Eve Leary later Saturday evening and were detained until 10 am yesterday.

Attorney Gino Persaud, who represented the interest of two of the persons detained told this newspaper last evening that he found the detention of the men most puzzling, since according to him at no time during the episode were the men told why they were being detained. He said shortly after the crew touched down at Timehri on Saturday they were detained by the police and questioned briefly. He said the men, thinking that all was well, were then told to report to Eve Leary later that day, much to the disgust of the foreigners.

He said the men spent the night on the benches at Eve Leary, and he was contacted and subsequently intervened to look after the interest of two members of the group. Persaud said the men thought the experience was most embarrassing and reports are that Canadian High Commission officials later intervened. The men were later released without any explanation.

Persaud related that the junior police rank on duty would only say that he was following orders, when questioned as to why his clients were being detained. Stabroek News understands that instructions were passed to aviation officials at Timehri on Saturday that the men were to be escorted down to Georgetown.

Stabroek News was also told that officials of the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU) and CID detectives were awaiting the men’s arrival at the Ogle airport on Friday afternoon. The helicopter’s arrival was delayed that afternoon after the helicopter reportedly ran out of fuel and the crew were left stranded on a sandbank in the Cuyuni River.

The helicopter, bearing US registration N919BH, arrived in the country on Thursday and flew to the interior location of Issano on the Mazaruni River to make a drop off. The craft,which was chartered by Pharsalus Inc, a mining company with interests here, left the location later that afternoon, around 5.40pm; however when it failed to arrive at the international airport at Timehri after an estimated one-hour flying time, the airport’s Search and Rescue unit was activated at the Control Tower.

The crew would later make contact with the army around 11pm that evening, to report that they had encountered bad weather on the way to Timehri and had detoured to the Quartz Stone area on the Cuyuni River.

On Friday Transport Minister Robeson Benn told this newspaper that the crew was being held up at the Cuyuni location in Region Seven by bad weather and later that afternoon, their attempts to depart had been thwarted after the craft ran out of fuel. It was left stranded on the sandbank overnight.

Aviation officials here questioned the capacity of the Search and Rescue unit to respond to the situation, since the army’s two Bell 206 helicopters are technically ‘handicapped’ to attempt a rescue mission in bad weather and at night.

The Surinamese craft was last evening parked at the GDF base, at Air Corps, Timehri.

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