Detention of investors on lost and found chopper ‘a serious mistake’

-could hurt investments, Gouveia warns

Chairman of the Private Sector Commission (PSC) Captain Gerry Gouveia yesterday said he was appalled that the investors on board the helicopter that went missing for a few hours last week were held overnight by the police, warning that such actions do not augur well for investment.

“I was disappointed that the people were detained overnight,” Gouveia told Stabroek News yesterday in an invited comment. “I was disappointed about that because there was a GDF pilot on board. And there is a reason why we put a GDF pilot on board that aircraft, not only for safety but issues of security as well,” he said.

The crew on board the Surinamese helicopter, with the exception of army pilot Captain Weeks, and two workers of the mining company that chartered the helicopter were detained for questioning at Police Headquarters, Eve Leary on Saturday night. They were released on Sunday morning.

Stabroek News was told that while Weeks was not held by the police he was questioned extensively at Camp Ayanganna, where he was under close arrest. During the questioning, he pointed out that he was only told mere hours before the flight that he would accompany the crew and as a result it would have been impossible for him to have planned anything illegal with those on the aircraft.

According to Gouveia, the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority needs to scrutinise foreign aircraft more, since those on board the chopper should have been able to make contact soon after they were forced to land. However, Gouveia, who has been critical of the country’s search and rescue operations in the past, said of the last operation: “This time, it worked like clockwork.” He commended Minister of Works Robeson Benn for being personally involved in the effort, noting that he was at the Timehri action centre where the rescue operation was activated.

Gouveia said he was “personally pleased” to see the minister on hand, adding that he took command and lent support resulting in the command centre working. “The command centre has a lot of people who have to go out in the nights and I really want to encourage them and congratulate them for doing what they did and it worked very well,” he said.
‘A VIP’
Gouveia, who has years of experience as a pilot, told Stabroek News the fact that the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) officer did not report any “anomalies” should have indicated that nothing illegal occurred.  “The people on board that helicopter were investors and we need to be very careful how we treat investors in Guyana, we need to balance security always with customer service and friendliness…,” he said.

He said Guyana is not a “police state” and must always appear to be humane. He noted that the investor came all the way from Australia to view a mining site, hence the need for the helicopter.

“This was a VIP and you end up detaining that man on a bench at CID for hours, for one night, and I believe that was a serious mistake for us and was unnecessary in my view,” he said.

He added that for the authorities to start looking for “conspiracy theories in every corner is a serious development in our country.” “This was not a crime and security issue and the fact that we had a GDF pilot on board made it a vey simple matter. A simple debrief would have debunked it.”

Gouveia said from a private sector standpoint, the issue that really concerned him is that such treatment could have been meted out to an investor.
‘Thorough’
Gouveia yesterday called on the GCAA to be more thorough in its demands on foreign aircraft and foreign pilots operating in Guyana. “It means that there are some things that have to happen, one of them of course is that we must ensure that the pilots have the level of experience to fly into the jungles of Guyana,” he stated.

Further, he said the GCAA needs to have more than a thorough understanding not only of the aircraft but also of the equipment on board, such as the emergency and tracking equipment.

He also feels that the GDF should also have a GPS tracker which their pilots should be equipped with that should be independent of the aircraft. The PSC chairman pointed out that when the pilot landed he should have known that an emergency search and rescue operation would have kicked in and should have been equipped to make urgent contact.

Disclosing that he flew for four hours on that very night in dangerous conditions looking for the chopper and its occupants, Gouveia said if the pilots had satellite phones and emergency radios they could have made contact with the planes that were out looking for them. And he also lamented the fact that both the pilots on the aircraft were “extremely inexperienced” and had been flying for just about six months. “So you had both pilots in the aircraft that had no experience and so the minute they run into what is considered to be minor difficult circumstances they landed and by then the next day they fly and they run out of fuel,” he said.

‘Driven out of business’
Meanwhile, Gouveia pointed out that because there are no local helicopters in Guyana, persons are forced to seek the services of foreign countries whenever they need a helicopter, which is always needed when going into interior locations.

He raised the sticky issue of the unfair competition private companies face from the GDF, which uses its helicopters for commercial purposes at much cheaper prices than what is offered by the private sector. “Roraima had its own helicopter and we were driven out of business by the army,” Gouveia said. “The army used their helicopters in commercial competition to us and drove us out of business, so now the company doesn’t have helicopters. So every time we want helicopters we got to go and bring [one] in from Suriname and Trinidad….”

He said this also brings into focus, the issue of safety as pilots who are unfamiliar with the country’s jungles are flying around. The aviation expert pointed out that the army not only has limited pilots but also limited aircraft and its limited resources should be used for national security. “To go and flying all over the place and then the pilots are tired at night; they burning out the planes and when it is time now for national security you have to turn to the private sector,” he pointed out.

According to Gouveia, when the Bartica massacre occurred he had to fly the police into the community. He was also involved in the response when former Superintendent of Police Leon Fraser was killed on the Linden/Soesdyke Highway. “Every time there is medical evacuation in the jungle, who do you think goes? The private sector. And that is what the GDF should be doing,” he said.

He added that it would be difficult for him to re-invest in a helicopter, as he would not even find the technical persons who are needed to operate such a business. He disclosed that when he was forced to “get rid” of his helicopter, ten technical persons left Guyana for other countries.

Touching on another point, Gouveia said that some in authority have in the past expressed fear that should persons be allowed to operate helicopters in Guyana they could use them for illegal purposes, but this he said is a myth. “Helicopters are not criminal machines… First of all, anytime a helicopter lands it brings out the whole community, helicopters are not something that could sneak in… Second of all, helicopters are slow, helicopters don’t have range in terms of fuel. Third of all, helicopters don’t carry a lot of pay load and for every dollar you spend on an aeroplane you spend five thousand on a helicopter,” he said.

Further, Gouveia said a helicopter uses much more fuel than an aeroplane and as such “they are not economic for crime.” As such, helicopters are always used by law enforcement because they are too high-profile.

He said in a country like Guyana helicopters are needed to get into the jungle as “you can’t go in and tap the resources of the mountain without helicopters.”

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