Trinidad: Helicopter crash lands during search for prison escapees

Curious onlookers survey the National Helicopter Services Limited helicopter which crashed at Windy Hill, Arouca, yesterday. The aircraft crashed while participating in the manhunt for eight escaped prisoners yesterday.

(Trinidad Guardian) The Na­tion­al He­li­copter Ser­vices Lim­it­ed (NHSL) is now in­ves­ti­gat­ing what caused a mul­ti-mil­lion dol­lar he­li­copter that was part of a joint law en­force­ment search for eight pris­on­ers to crash short­ly af­ter one yes­ter­day.

In a re­lease yes­ter­day, NHSL con­firmed the in­ci­dent at Windy Hill, Arou­ca, which all three oc­cu­pants of the air­craft luck­i­ly es­caped un­hurt. The ac­ci­dent is al­so en­gag­ing the at­ten­tion of the Trinidad and To­ba­go Civ­il Avi­a­tion Au­thor­i­ty, Guardian Me­dia was told.

The pi­lot, pris­ons of­fi­cer and po­lice of­fi­cer on board were all shak­en “but in one piece,” Prison Com­mis­sion­er Ger­ard Wil­son, who ar­rived min­utes af­ter the crash, con­firmed to Guardian Me­dia.

“Well, I called him, he told me they were do­ing sur­veil­lance and he doesn’t know if the he­li­copter was too low, but it start­ed to spin, it got a tail­spin and he said that he felt when it hit the ground that was it for him,” Wil­son said.

The man­gled wreck­age of the NHSL he­li­copter stood in a bar­ren clear­ing mere feet away from a small riv­er about a quar­ter mile off the Ari­ma Old Road in the Windy Hill, Arou­ca area af­ter the pi­lot man­aged to land it safe­ly enough to avoid in­juries to him­self and his pas­sen­gers.

The ro­tor blades were bent and limp and sev­er­al pieces of the blades were strewn around the crash site, which was heav­i­ly guard­ed by sol­diers of the Trinidad and To­ba­go Reg­i­ment and po­lice of­fi­cers.

The man­hunt for the eight pris­on­ers, all con­sid­ered armed and dan­ger­ous, had be­gun short­ly af­ter sev­en yes­ter­day, af­ter the men were dis­cov­ered miss­ing from their cell in the up­per South wing of the in­sti­tu­tion.

A joint team of po­lice, pris­ons and army of­fi­cers lat­er start­ed search­ing the Bon Air and Windy Hill ar­eas for sev­er­al hours and set up strate­gic road­blocks as they re­ceived re­port­ed sight­ings of the men. Po­lice re­cov­ered a pair of boots and an or­ange vest near a riv­er close to the Pri­or­i­ty Bus Route in the Bon Air area.

The names of the es­caped men were Olatun­ji Den­bow, Brent John­son, Mikhale Mo­hammed, Joshua Janet, Ker­ry Valenti­no, Stef­fon Austin, Michael Find­ley – all on re­mand for mur­der – and At­i­ba Sealey, who was in­car­cer­at­ed on an ag­gra­vat­ed rob­bery charge.

Wil­son gave de­tails of how the es­cape of the men went down af­ter vis­it­ing Cell 6 in the up­per south wing of the Gold­en Grove Re­mand Yard.

“When I looked in I asked about the hole, they showed me to the top left-hand cor­ner there was a hole, not more than 12 inch­es in di­am­e­ter, prob­a­bly a square. They took out a brick and cut two bars and with­out get­ting the facts and the pre­lim­i­nary re­port, I would as­sume a hack­saw blade was used,” Wil­son said.

Wil­son said once the men went through that open­ing they would have jumped over the first perime­ter fence and then the Gold­en Grove prison fence, which he said was “not that high” and then on­to Wa­ter­loo Road on the east­ern side of the prison com­pound.

Fol­low­ing the lat­est jail­break, Wil­son told Guardian Me­dia that they were work­ing fever­ish­ly with the Min­istry of Na­tion­al Se­cu­ri­ty re­in­force se­cu­ri­ty mea­sures at Re­mand Yard.

“We were start­ing to move in­mates out in or­der to the north­ern wing and put toi­lets in cells. So I don’t know if they took the op­por­tu­ni­ty be­cause they felt that they were be­ing moved even­tu­al­ly, to make their es­cape from the in­sti­tu­tion.”

He said he had been in con­tact with Min­is­ter of Na­tion­al Se­cu­ri­ty Stu­art Young, who was out of the coun­try, about the es­cape and al­so ap­prised him about the he­li­copter in­volved in the crash.

Law en­force­ment of­fi­cers did not re­lent in their search for the es­capees, fi­nal­ly catch­ing up with at least five of the men by last evening.

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