All seven crew members and passengers of the UH-1H Huey utility helicopter that crashed in Impasug-ong, Bukidnon on Saturday have already been identified, a military official confirmed Sunday.
The Philippine Air Force (PAF) earlier the pilot-in-command of the chopper as Lieutenant Colonel Arnie Arroyo, a graduate of PAF Officer Candidate School (PAFOCS) Class of 2003.
A separate report obtained by the Manila Bulletin identified the other fatalities as Seconnd Lieutenant Mark Anthony Caabay, co-pilot; Staff Sergeant Mervin Bersabi, gunner and crew chief; Airman First Class Stephen Agarrado, gunner; and Army Sergeant Julius Salvador, passenger.
Also killed in the crash were CAFGU (Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit) Active Auxiliary (CAA) members Jerry Ayukdo and Jhamel Sugalang.
The identities of the casualties were confirmed separately by Major Rodulfo Cordero Jr., spokesperson of the Fourth Infantry Division (4th ID).
The team was aboard a PAF Huey helicopter, with tail number 517, when the chopper went on a nosedive in Barangay Bulonay around 2:30 p.m., said Cordero.
He said the troops came from the headquarters of the 403rd Infantry Brigade in Malaybalay, Bukidnon, and were headed to the patrol base of the 8th IB in Impasug-ong town to bring supplies when the copper encountered engine trouble.
“Nagkaroon ng engine trouble ‘yung chopper kaya nag-attempt na mag-emergency landing. Hindi na siya nakapagland ng maayos kaya nagcrash na siya (The chopper encountered an engine trouble so they attempted to do an emergency landing. However, they failed to land properly until they crashed),” Cordero said.
“Walang survivor (There was no survivor),” he noted, adding that the chopper was “totally wrecked.”
A PAF report said Arroyo was already on his fourth flight for the day when tragedy struck. Cordero said the bodies of the fatalities were already extricated from the crash wreck.
Lt. Gen. Allen Paredes, PAF Commanding General, condoled with the families of the soldiers and the militiaman, who perished in the air mishap.
He paid tribute to them, and called them “brave heroes who have offered their lives in the line of duty.”
He said the PAF will provide all necessary assistance and financial aid for the bereaved families of those who died.
Meanwhile, Paredes immediately ordered the grounding of all PAF aircraft for immediate inspection.
An investigation team was sent to Bukidnon to determine what caused the chopper’s engine trouble, said Lt. Col. Aristedes Galang, PAF spokesperson.
Galang, however, maintained that all of their air assets, including the Huey choppers, undergo “strict, regular, and redundant maintenance inspections” before and after flight missions.
The recent crash was the fourth incident involving a PAF chopper in six months.
On November 26, 2020, a UH-1H chopper crashed in Madalum, Lanao del Sur while conducting a medical evacuation (medevac), killing a military personnel onboard. A PAF chopper also crashed in Lantawan, Basilan on September 16, 2020 where four airmen died. On July 23, 2020, four airmen also died when a UH-1D chopper also crashed at the vicinity of the Tactical Operations Group (TOG-2) area in Cauayan, Isabela.
Palace mourns death of 7 military men
Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar mourned the death of seven military personnel in a helicopter crash in Bukidnon last Saturday.
Andanar cited their courageous service to the nation.
“We are saddened by the helicopter crash involving our Philippine Air Force personnel while resupplying troops to counteract communist rebels in Bukidnon yesterday, Jan. 16, 2021,” Andanar said in a statement Sunday.
“With this, we extend our deepest sympathies and condolences to the family and loved ones of our fallen heroes,” said Andanar, who serves as Cabinet Officer for Regional Development and Security for Northern Mindanao.
Andanar commended the soldiers for their bravery, courage, and patriotism, saying these never wavered until their final hours while serving the country.
“May their love for our country inspire many soldiers and Filipinos to uphold peace among each other to attain development and security while respecting differences. Our thoughts and prayers go out to their families in this time of grief,” he said. (With a report from Genalyn Kabiling)