Hope turned into despair this afternoon as the Guyana Defence Force lowered all of its flags to half mast and confirmed that five of its service members died in the helicopter crash at Arau, in the bordering region with Venezuela.
There were seven persons on board including the crew when the helicopter went down yesterday morning. Two young soldiers survived the crash.
Those confirmed dead are Commander of the 1st Infantry Battalion, Col. Michael Shahoud, Veteran Pilot, Lt. Col. Michael Charles, Lt. Col. Sean Welcome, retired Brigadier Gary Beaton and Sgt. Jason Khan.
The survivors have been identified as pilot, Lt. Andio Crawford and Cpl. Dwayne Jackson.
A cause of the tragedy is still to be determined.
Search and Rescue teams headed back into the area early this morning and were able to identify the scene of the crash after the survivors were spotted signaling to the rescue teams. It took over an hour to get the rescue teams into heavily forested area as the stormy weather conditions affected the repelling of the special forces personnel.
News Source understands that once at the scene of the crash, the search and rescue teams were able to confirm the deaths as they provided emergency care to the survivors. The severity of their injuries are not known.
Senior military officials reported to News Source that some of those who died were badly burnt, as the helicopter burst into flames on impact.
In a statement, the GDF said the Chief of Staff, Officers and Ranks of the Guyana Defence Force extend sincere condolences to the families and loved ones of those who perished.
The Guyana Defence Force said it is committed to providing unwavering support to the families during this unprecedented and challenging period of mourning, noting that the Officers have served and given excellent service in the defence of the country and will be duly recognized.
It was explained that the next phase of the operation involves the extraction from the area, followed by the commencement of an investigation into the incident.
The GDF has set up a temporary emergency base at a mining location close to the crash site.
This evening, the Government of Guyana has ordered that all national flags and institutional flags be flown at half mast until further notice.
In a statement of condolences, President Irfaan Ali said his heart pains and drowns in sorrow at the tragic loss of some of Guyana’s finest men in uniform.
The President said the scale of this loss to the families, the country, the GDF and to him personally is immeasurable.
He said the five servicemen who died loved their country above and beyond everything, as he offered prayers for their families and prayers also for the survivors.
The five men who died were all well respected and well loved in the Guyana Defence Force.
Colonel Michael Shahoud was the Commander of the mission to visit troops at the border location. He was also the Commander of the Force’s First Infantry Battalion and was one of the best trained in that field. Just last week, he hosted military officials from across the region for a special meeting here in Guyana.
Lt. Colonel Mike Charles served as a pilot for over 40 years. He was one of the most experienced helicopter pilots in Guyana and came out of his retirement a few years ago to continue serving the Force. He would document his travels across the country in video documentaries and photo releases on his social media pages.
Retired Brigadier Gary Beaton was back serving the Force through a Government Office. He retired as one of the highest ranking officers in the Force and was once earmarked as a possible Head of the Force. He was also a former Commander of the GDF Coast Guard.
Lt. Colonel Sean Welcome had topped a number of military programmes and courses throughout his career. Back in 2018, as a Major, he topped the Force’s Senior Command and Staff Course, and Staff Sergeant Jason Khan was an athletic and competitive member of the Force who had also topped a number of military courses over the years.
This evening, there is a somber tone that has enveloped the entire country as a nation mourns.