GDF helicopter crash: New Eccles-to-Diamond Road named “Heroes Highway”

…“We will always stand by you” – Pres Ali assures grieving families

In honour of the five Guyana Defence Force (GDF) ranks who died in Wednesday’s horrific helicopter crash, the newly completed Eccles to Diamond four-lane road on the East Bank of Demerara was named the Heroes Highway.
During an emotional and solemn dedication ceremony, this new road was commissioned on Sunday evening by Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, President Dr Irfaan Ali, and the families of the five servicemen as well as senior military and Government officials.
The GDF Bell 412 crashed about nine miles southeast of “Blake Slater’s” airstrip, Ekereku Top, Cuyuni River, on Wednesday, resulting in the deaths of Retired Brigadier Gary Beaton; Lieutenant Colonel Michael Shahoud; Lieutenant Colonel Sean Welcome; Lieutenant Colonel Michael Charles and Sergeant Jason Khan.
Only two soldiers survived the crash – Corporal Dwayne Jackson and Lieutenant Andio Crawford, who are both receiving treatment at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC).

Colonel Michael Shahoud’s son cutting the ceremonial ribbon to declare the Heroes Highway open as President Dr Irfaan Ali along with other senior Government and GDF officials and children, spouses and family of the ranks who perished in the helicopter crash look on

President Ali said on Sunday evening that the naming of the highway in honour of these five fallen servicemen was appropriate and will continue to serve as a dedication site for all those in uniform who die in the line of duty going forward.
The new four-lane road runs from Eccles to Diamond and features a roundabout at both ends.
Standing in the centre of the roundabout at Diamond is a giant anteater which, according to President Ali, represents strength, resilience and courage – qualities that were imbued in all the victims of the crash.
“This highway is dedicated to the life, work, memories of our five great servicemen. We honour them with this highway… This highway was appropriately named the Heroes Highway. For all the men and women we lose in the line of duty henceforth, their names will accompany the path of this highway. We will not forget them,” the Head of State posited.

Emotional tribute
Surrounded by the current and former GDF Heads at the podium, the Commander-in-Chief delivered an emotional tribute to each of the five soldiers, recalling special moments he shared with them and their contributions in service to the country and its people.
According to the President, the ‘chopper crew’ was particularly special to him, given that he spent a lot of time with them. He recalled his last trip with the crew last month to Arau, where they conducted a historic hoisting of the Golden Arrowhead 2200 feet above sea level at Guyana’s border.
The President said Sergeant Khan, only 35-years-old, had served the GDF for 19 years. He was working on a project that focused on efficiently retooling the troops at the border locations.
“This young man has made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. His wife and three children and other relatives must know that he has not died. He is living and will continue to live. As the Commander-in-Chief, you are my family. I will stand by you, I will stand by his children as long as I’m here and after I’m here – be assured. Under my watch, he made the ultimate sacrifice and as long as [I’m here], I will have your back,” he stated.

File photo: President Dr Irfaan Ali with the five perished GDF ranks and other senior officials during a visit to Guyana’s border last month

The Head of State went on to recall that on the retirement of Brigadier Beaton, he requested him to continue service – which he (Beaton) agreed to. He since served as the Chair of the Guyana Sea Defence Board and went back to serve in the GDF, focusing on infrastructure development.
“Brigadier Beaton was waiting for highway to be completed. We had many conversations and shared many ideas. He has given his life for this country. He would have it no other way. For a matter of fact, he ensured he was on that flight that day because he wanted the airstrip to be completed… He lives on in greater glory. His work will continue to live and the Eteringbang Airstrip, which is an important part of our defence, will stand testimony that he will live on,” the President noted.
The Commander-in-Chief went on to describe Lt Col Welcome as a man of great integrity and character, who uplifted himself academically and only recently completed his Master’s Degree at the University of Guyana.
“He was so excited, full of life and energy,” Ali noted.
He noted that Welcome’s mission was important to him as he wanted to ensure that the troops were in a state of readiness for what country could face in light of the heightened tensions at the border.
“He did not want anyone to do [this mission]. He wanted to do it himself,” the President stated.

Loyalist to the core
The Commander-in-Chief was particularly emotional speaking about Colonel Micheal Shahoud and Lt Col Micheal Charles. He related that the senior command would call Shahoud his (Ali’s) son.
“He was a loyalist to the core. He was an outstanding individual. He could have gone the course of law. He could’ve done many more things that would earn him a lot of money but he would want it no other way,” Ali said.
According to the President, Lt Col Charles was not just a military officer but acted as a tourism advocate by allowing persons to see Guyana through his lens.
“He saw himself as blessed with an opportunity to showcase his country and that he did exceptionally… we spent many hours and days together… Mike Charles did what he did with love and honour. He didn’t just fly; he flew for Guyana. Every time he flew, he flew for Guyana,” the Guyanese leader posited.
The Commander-in-Chief also used the opportunity to publicly wish Corporal Crawford and Lt Jackson a speedy and full recovery.
“These men are nothing short of national heroes… These men live in honour and sacrifice for this country. Their children must grow to know that their fathers paid the ultimate price for all of us, every single Guyanese.”
President Ali pointed out their sacrifices will not be in vain. To this end, he reassured the families of the victims that they will continue to have the support of the GDF.
“To the families, I thank you for giving your loved ones in service to us and loaning them to Guyana. I want all of you to know that we will stand with you and by you not in the short term, not in the medium term but in the long term. You are part of the Guyana Defence Force family and you will remain a part of the Guyana Defence Force family. There is no severing of ties that bind you with the Guyana Defence Force… It is stronger today than when they were alive,” the Head of State declared.

Meanwhile, in brief remarks, Chief of Staff of the GDF, Brigadier Omar Khan saluted the sacrifices made by the five soldiers, noting that their deaths have thrown the army in “deep sorrow and mourning.” Nonetheless, Khan underscored the need to regroup and continue to protect Guyana and its people.
“As a Force, these men – our men, our brothers in arms – who have perished, expect us to regroup and prepare to continue with the mission for this is life of the military, we live to serve selflessly… This loss has been impactful but I also equally assure you that in each of the serving officers and ranks, there is a Beaton, a Shahoud, a Charles, a Welcome and a Khan. And by this, we are prepared to continue with the mission of protecting our country and our people,” the GDF Chief posited.
Brigadier Khan also endorsed the dedication ceremony of the ‘Heroes Highway’ as fitting in the memory and recognition of the sacrifice made by the five servicemen. (G8)