Enemy fire ruled out in PAF chopper crash

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    THE Philippine Air Force yesterday ruled out enemy fire as the reason behind last Saturday’s crash of a Huey helicopter in Bukidnon that killed two pilots and five other military personnel.

    Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Aristides Galang said the helicopter and a buddy aircraft were flying at an altitude that cannot be reached by enemy fire from the ground.

    “As per report from the 4th Infantry Division, the attack angle is negative…We have no information that it was attacked…They flew over and above the range of the enemy,” Galang said.

    The 4th ID is an Army unit based in Cagayan de Oro City, Bukidnon which is known to be infested with communist rebels. It is included in the areas of responsibility of the 4th ID.

    “That (enemy fire) is ruled out, the reports that there were NPAs below…We have no report on that, that’s negative because our pilots are familiar with the area,” Galang said.

    Galang added that troops on the ground did not observe the presence of the NPA in the vicinity of the crash site prior to the mishap.

    “Definitely, based on our information, there are no NPAs in the area. We have troops on the ground,” he said

    The two aircraft were on a resupply mission when one of them crashed in Barangay Bulonay last Saturday afternoon.

    The mishap claimed the lives of Lt. Col. Arnie Arroyo and 2Lt. Mark Anthony Caabay, the pilot-in-command and co-pilot, respectively, of the ill-fated helicopter; gunners Sgt. Mervin Bersabe and Airman 1st Class Stephen Agarrado, Army Sgt. Julius Salvador, and Jerry Ayucdo and Jhamel Sugalang, both Cafgus or militiamen

    Galang said Air Force investigators are now in Bukidnon looking into at least three angles – materiel factor, human factor or pilot error, and environmental factor.

    Galang said investigators will take the statements of personnel in the other helicopter.

    “They (personnel onboard) saw what happened. Their statements will be taken during the investigation. They will be asked what happened,” he said.

    Galang said investigators will also examine the components and parts of the ill-fated helicopter.

    “As of now, we still cannot say the cause of the accident,” said Galang, disputing anew the earlier statement of the 4th ID that the helicopter crashed due to engine trouble.

    Due to the crash, the Air Force has grounded all Huey helicopters in its inventory, pending the conduct of thorough inspection. The Air Force said other aircraft can fill the role of the grounded Hueys.

    “Our aim is to achieve zero accidents in the AFP, especially in the Philippine Air Force where an accident almost always results in the death of an aircraft’s crew,” said Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.

    “In accordance with established protocols, the PAF’s entire fleet of Hueys has been grounded and all the units will be inspected,” Lorenzana added.