PNP probes pilots, crew of chopper that crashed in Laguna

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    PNP chief Gen. Archie Gamboa yesterday approved the conduct of investigation against the pilots and crew of the police helicopter which crashed upon take off in San Pedro, Laguna more than three months ago.

    Gamboa, in a press conference in Camp Crame, said the investigation will determine if the pilots and crew have criminal and administrative liabilities for the crash of the PNP’s Bell-429 chopper.

    He said the special investigating task group created for the purpose recommended the conduct of investigation which he approved after careful review. Those who will be investigated are pilot Police Lt. Col. Ruel Zalatar, co-pilot Police Lt. Col. Rico Macawili, and crew Police Senior Master Sgt. Louie Estona.

    “There is a recommendation for the investigation of the pilot in command on both administrative and criminal charges. So I said ‘yes’ you may conduct an investigation and find out whether there are administrative and criminal culpabilities of the pilot in command and of course including the crew,” Gamboa said.

    He said Zalatar, Macawili, and Estona are still assigned at the Special Action Force administrative and holding unit where police officers who are under investigation are temporarily designated.

    Gamboa was one of the eight passengers of the chopper. Aside from the pilots and crew, the other passengers were PNP spokesman brig. Gen. Bernard Banac, director for intelligence Maj. Gen. Mariel Magaway, director for comptrollership Maj. Gen. Jose Ma. Victor Ramos, and Gamboa’s aide-de-camp Capt. Kevin Gayrama.

    Gamboa was joined in by the officers in an on-site inspection of recovered vehicles by the Highway Patrol Group in an impounding area in San Pedro, Laguna last March 5.

    A video footage showed the chopper generated a dust cloud before take-off, probably affecting the pilot’s vision. The chopper got entangled on a high-tension wire before it crashed.

    Gamboa and five of the other passengers suffered minor injuries, but Magaway and Ramos were badly hurt. Ramos is still in a hospital, while Magaway has recovered.

    Gamboa said the grounding of the PNP choppers is now lifted as he assured that all their helicopters are in good flying condition.

    He said he will ride a PNP chopper again on July 17 to visit the headquarters of the Ilocos Police Regional Office in La Union.