A Guyana Defence Force Bell Helicopter that was transporting military personnel between Arau and Eteringbang in an area close to the border with Venezuela went missing today after all contact was lost with the pilots.
The GDF Bell-412 helicopter was being piloted by well-known military pilot Lieutenant Colonel (Reserve) Mike Charles and Lieutenant Andio Crawford. There were five other military personnel onboard including high-ranking senior officers, retired Brigadier Gary Beaton and Colonel Michael Shahoud, who was in command of the operation and Lt. Colonel Sean Welcome.
The GDF team was on a mission to visit troops at the border.
Chief of Staff of the Guyana Defence Force, Brigadier Omar Khan at a press conference this evening said the search efforts were suspended late this afternoon, but will continue early tomorrow. It was explained that today’s search efforts were hampered by the bad weather that was in the area. The Chief of Staff said he remains optimistic that the team is safe and will be found alive.
News Source understands that contact with the crew was last made at around 11:20 this morning when a signal was received from the helicopter’s Emergency Locator Transmitter.
In a statement, the GDF said the coordinates positioned the helicopter at approximately 30 miles east of Arau on Guyana’s western borders.
“On receipt of that ELT signal, we activated our analysis. We attempted to make contact with the aircraft and no communication was obtained. We immediately activated our search and rescue process and this involved a number of things, coordination across our own services and also, with the private sector”, Brigadier Khan noted.
As repeated efforts to make contact with the crew failed and the Emergency Locator Transmitter went dead, search and rescue teams were dispatched from GDF headquarters and other locations. Private aircraft also supported the search operations.
The Chief of Staff said the search and rescue operation was impacted by adverse weather conditions in the area. He showed photographs and video recording of the search operations, highlighting the poor visibility caused by heavy rain and heavy cloudy conditions.
“This incident I am sure has generated additional anxiety of this period that we are in. As a Force, one of the obligations we have is to communicate with the relatives of the Officers and Ranks on that flight, which we did, and we will continue to communicate with those family members. Our efforts to search will commence in the morning. We have troops on the ground and we will recommence those search efforts in the morning. I am confident that what we would have gained today of the terrain and other data, we will have a better day tomorrow”, the Chief of Staff said.
Brigadier Khan said the crew and military personnel on board the helicopter are some of the more experienced members of the Guyana Defence Force. He said he will remain optimistic that they are found alive and well.
With the ongoing threats from neighbouring Venezuela and the Venezuelan President’s recent actions declaring Essequibo a new Venezuelan state, the Guyana Defence Force has been on high alert. Questioned about whether the aircraft going missing might be related to any act by the neighbouring country, the Chief of Staff said he is not in receipt of any information that would indicate such a scenario.