The Philippine Air Force is now conducting an in-depth investigation to determine why a Philippine Air Force (PAF) UH-1H Huey helicopter crashed in Impasug-ong, Bukidnon, killing seven military personnel, last Saturday.
Lt. Col. Aristedes Galang, PAF spokesperson, said an investigating team has been dispatched to Bukidnon to inspect the crashed chopper with tail No.517.
Although initial reports said the chopper encountered engine trouble, Galang said that the PAF investigating team will also look into other possible causes such as environmental factor, human error, and material factor or the state of the chopper prior to flying.
“Initially for us, there is already an ongoing investigation. That (engine trouble) will not be the only consideration. We will consider all factors. We are not discounting the possibility that the problem is really the engine but I think it is too early to say for now,” Galang said.
As such, the PAF investigating team will contact the second chopper flying alongside the crashed Huey to possibly extract vital information that may help shed light on the incident, he noted.
“That (Huey) is a buddy aircraft. If they fly for a resupply mission, they always fly in twos. Definitely, the second chopper has a communication with the crashed Huey. That will be a part of our investigation,” Galang said.
However, the PAF spokesperson already ruled out the possibility that the Huey chopper crashed because of a hostile action from communist guerillas.
Galang acknowledged that some parts of Bukidnon are still infested with the New People’s Army (NPA) but he maintained that their pilots are already briefed what areas to avoid to prevent enemy contact prior to their flight missions.
“That possibility is already out of the picture. The pilot knew that route. There was already a report where the NPAs were positioned, we have ground support troops to spot the enemies. That (presence of NPA) is automatic negative,” he stressed.
At present, Galang said all Huey helicopters of the PAF were grounded for a “thorough maintenance inspection.” He, however, maintained that all aircraft in their fleet undergo a strict maintenance inspection before they are flown for essential missions.
Acquired in the 1970s and 1980s, the Hueys are considered as the “workhorse” of the PAF.
Despite its relatively old age, Galang insisted that the parts and components of their Huey choppers are always updated.
“These helicopters came during the 1970s or ’80s but the parts and components are religiously changed,” he said. “If the parts of a certain aircraft already reached its required time hours, they need to be changed by brand new parts,” he added.
He assured the public that the PAF’s other aircraft, such as the Bell and Black Hawk helicopters, are ready for any missions including rescue, relief, and transport of personnel and equipment.
“Ang ganitong mga aksidente, hindi talaga maiiwasan. Pero noong nagkaroon tayo ng bagyo at flooding sa Cagayan, everyday hindi lang dalawang helicopters natin ang lumilipad at nagdadala ng relief sa areas na hindi mapenetrate througn land travel. Pero hindi tayo nagkamishap (We cannot completely avoid these kind of accidents. But when we had storms and flooding in Cagayan, we dispatched two helicopters to conduct relief missions everyday in areas that could not be penetrated through land travel. We did not encounter a single mishap),” he noted.
“I assure the public that this aircraft is safe. Huwag po tayong matakot sa ating mga helicopters (Let us not be afraid of our helicopters),” he said.
The PAF rendered military honors to the four airmen who died in the tragedy,
The remains of Lt. Col. Arnie Arroyo, pilot; 2nd Lt. Mark Anthony Caabay, co-pilot; Staff Sgt. Mervin Bersabi, door gunner and crew chief; and Airman 1st Class Stephen Agarrado, door gunner; were flown via a C-295 aircraft from Lumbia, Cagayan de Oro City to Benito Ebuen Air Base in Mactan, Cebu.
Major Gen. Florante Amano, Air Force vice commander, led the military honors and gave his final salute when the bodies of the four airmen arrived at the air base around 4 p.m. Sunday.
After the short ceremony, a Mass was held in honor of all seven casualties in the air mishap. The other fatalities were identified as Army Sgt. Julius Salvador and Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit Active Auxiliary (CAA) members Jerry Ayukdo and Jhamel Sugalang.
The bodies of Salvador, Ayukdo, and Sugalang were transported to their hometowns in Bukidnon and Agusan del Sur.