Investigators begin PNP helicopter crash probe

INTERIOR and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año on Friday, March 6, said the investigation into the helicopter crash is looking into the suitability of the landing site in San Pedro, Laguna.

Based on the video of the takeoff, Año noted that the pilot had zero visibility after a thick cloud of dust swirled around the Bell 429 helicopter as it took off.

“Oo nga, totoo. Yun kasi ang napili nilang landing zone. Bago nag-landing ‘yung chopper doon ay diniligan ng bumbero pero siguro dapat nadiligan pa yan bago nag take-off. Mukhang tuyo na ‘yung diniligan tapos mainit... Yan yung mga lalabas sa ginagawa nating investigation,” he said.

(Before the chopper landed, firemen sprayed the landing zone with water. They should have done the same before takeoff.)

Año also confirmed receiving information that the barangay captain had advised against using the Laperal Compound in San Pedro, Laguna as landing site because of the power lines overhead.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) helicopter, a brand new rotorcraft acquired in 2018 for P435 million, crashed after hitting the power lines shortly after takeoff at about 7 a.m. Thursday, March 5, 2020.

On board were PNP Chief Archie Gamboa, Director for Comptrollership Jose Maria Victor "Jovic" Ramos, Director for Intelligence Mariel Magaway, PNP spokesperson Bernard Banac, Gamboa’s aide-de-camp Captain Kevin Gayrama; pilot Lieutenant Colonel Ruel Zalatar; co-pilot Lt. Col. Rico Macawili; and crew Senior Master Sergeant Luis Estona.

Gamboa and the other generals were in San Pedro to inspect the impounding area of the PNP Highway Patrol Group. They were on their way to the Calabarzon Police Regional Office headquarters in Camp Vicente Lim in Calamba when they crashed.

Ramos and Magaway are in critical condition while Gamboa and the rest sustained minor injuries.

Major General Benigno Durana Jr., PNP acting spokesperson, said Gamboa, Banac, the two pilots, crew, and Gamboa’s aide-de-camp are already out of danger.

He said Magaway is showing “little signs of improvement” while Ramos is still in an “unstable” condition.

Lieutenant General Guillermo Eleazar, PNP deputy chief for operations who is leading the crash investigation, said they will be working with experts from the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) and Air Forces Safety Office.

Eleazar conducted an ocular inspection of the crash site Friday, March 6.

“Ang purpose natin doon ay mag-conduct ng investigation at malaman natin kung ano talaga nangyari at makita natin kung ano talaga mga lapses na nangyari at ma-review natin ang mga policy at guidelines sa paggamit ng ating mga air assets at ma-improve natin so that hindi na mangyari or ma-prevent ‘yung similar accident na ito,” he said.

“Nawawala ang peace of mind natin kung ganyan ang nangyayari kaya kailangan ma-review natin maigi yan base on the result of this investigation ma-review at ma-improve ang ating mga SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) para bumalik ‘yung ating tiwala nung ating mge senior officers and other members of the PNP that will utilize our air assets,” he added.

Eleazar said investigators from the Calabarzon Police Regional Office, Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) and CAAP conducted an investigation immediately after the crash.

Their initial findings would be discussed Friday afternoon.

He said they did not set a timetable for them to be able to finish the investigation but “it should be finished the soonest possible time.”

Eleazar said the chopper has no blackbox and investigation will be based on the accounts of the witnesses as well as the victims.

He said they have yet to get the statement of the pilots.

“But just the same all the evidence will come from the site mismo and the statement of the witnesses pati na rin mga passengers, mga first responders pwede na natin makita ‘yung buong sitwasyon so that we can make necessary findings and recommendations,” he said.

Eleazar said they were awaiting CAAP clearance to remove the chopper from the crash site.

Eleazar also assured that police operations will not in any way be affected by the grounding of all PNP air assets pending the conduct of investigation.

Lieutenant General Camilo Cascolan serves as the PNP officer-in-charge until Sunday, March 8. Gamboa earlier said he will return to work on Monday, March 9. (SunStar Philippines)


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