GDF helicopter crash: “This loss is immeasurable”, “my heart pains” – Commander-in-Chief on death of 5 servicemen
…survivors remain at crash site, 3 attempts to extract failed due to adverse weather
…rescue team, medical personnel also at site
Five of the seven soldiers who were aboard the Guyana Defence Force Bell 412 helicopter when it crashed in the mountains of Region Seven (Cuyuni-Mazaruni) have perished. They are Brigadier (ret’d) Gary Beaton, Colonel Michael Shahoud, Lieutenant Colonel Sean Welcome, Lieutenant Colonel Michael Charles, and Staff Sergeant Jason Khan.
The two soldiers who survived the crash are Lieutenant Andio Crawford and Corporal Dwayne Jackson.
Brigadier Beaton was the project engineer; Colonel Shahoud, an attorney-at-law, was Commander of the 1st Infantry Battalion; Lt Col Charles was the pilot; Lieutenant Colonel Welcome was Commanding Officer of the Reserve Battalion; and Staff Sergeant Khan was from the 31 Special Forces Squadron.
At about 11:20h on Wednesday, an Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) signal was received, but because of rough terrain and adverse weather, the search-and-rescue team was able to reach the site only on Thursday at about 14:30h.
Following the news of the servicemen’s death, Commander -in-Chief of the Armed Forces, President Dr Irfaan Ali, in a sorrowful message, said it is with “an indescribable heaviness in my heart and profound anguish that I come before you today (Thursday) to share the devastating news of the loss of five of our bravest sons from the Guyana Defence Force. These valiant men met their untimely end when the helicopter they were travelling in crashed in the rugged and challenging terrain of our beloved nation amidst treacherous weather conditions.”
The Head of State said he had known all of these servicemen and his respect for them was boundless. “They were not just military men; they were guardians of our sovereignty, defenders of our values, and champions of our freedom. Their commitment to duty was unwavering, as evidenced by their willingness to embark on missions even in the most treacherous conditions to ensure the safety of our Motherland,” the President said.
He added, “the pain I feel at the loss of these dedicated servicemen is immeasurable. For our nation and the Guyana Defence Force, this is a blow that words fail to capture adequately. Their sacrifice, made in the line of duty, will forever be etched in the annals of our history, a testament to their courage and devotion.”
He also extended condolences to the families of the servicemen, saying, “I cannot fathom the depth of your grief, but please know that our entire nation mourns with you. Your loved ones, our heroes, will be remembered not only for their sacrifice, but for the honour and courage they displayed in service to our country.”
He added that this loss is immeasurable, and the void left behind is vast. “These men loved Guyana above all else. They took pride in wearing the uniform that symbolised their dedication to our great nation. In humble reverence, I bow my head and lift their families in prayers during this difficult time.”
Drowns in sorrow
In a post on social media, President Ali said, “My heart pains and drowns in sorrow at the tragic loss of some of our finest men in uniform. The scale of this loss to the families, our country, the GDF, and to me personally is immeasurable. My trusted friends and comrades, my brothers, how could this be? You loved your country above and beyond everything. Country and service were all that matter to you. I observe with so much honor the pride you took in putting on your uniform. We became a family bonded in service and brotherhood. I have experienced the love of all of you and it is ripping me apart.”
He continued: “My bothers, I embrace your families as mine, and will do as much as I can to represent all of you in service to country and family. On kneeling knees, I lift all of you and your families up in prayers and faith. I call upon all of us to hold these men, their families, the GDF, and our country in our prayers. Rest in peace, my trusted friends. So many plans we had together. How could this be?”
Special forces team
After adverse weather conditions had challenged the search-and-rescue team on Wednesday, the GDF said, at daybreak on Thursday, a special forces team was inserted into the area, and arrived at the crash site at approximately 14:30h.
According to the GDF, the team’s mission was to extract the servicemen, but at about 14:47h, the team reported that there were only two survivors: Lieutenant Andio Crawford and Corporal Wayne Jackson.
In a message following the discovery, 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 is committed to providing unwavering support to these families during this unprecedented and challenging period of mourning. These Officers have served and given excellent service in the defence of our country, and will be duly recognized,” the statement read.
Investigation next phase
According to the GDF, the next phase of the operation involves the extraction from the area, followed by the commencement of an investigation into the incident.
Meanwhile, the Guyana Police Force, in a statement on Thursday evening, said that pursuant to a report of a missing aircraft, property of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF), along with several servicemen on board, the crash site was located by one of the rescue teams from the Guyana Defence Force about nine miles southeast of “Blake Slater’s” airstrip, Ekereku Top, Cuyuni River.
The GPF said the bodies of the other five GDF servicemen were found motionless.
“The survivors are being attended to by the rescue team, while strenuous efforts are being made to have the two survivors and the servicemen whose motionless bodies were found flown to Georgetown,” the GPF statement detailed.
Late on Thursday evening, in an update to the media, the Guyana Defence Force said its efforts to rescue and recover the personnel who were on board the ill-fated Bell 412 aircraft are continuing. The GDF said two search and rescue-capable helicopters provided by the company Omni had made three attempts to extract those at the crash site, with priority given to the two survivors. These efforts were, however, thwarted by the persistent severe weather over the site.
According to the GDF, the rescue team inserted earlier on Thursday, which included medical personnel, remains at the site, providing the necessary support to Lt. Crawford and CPL Jackson.
The rescue and recovery operation will resume today.
The GDF also extended its deepest gratitude to the search-and-rescue team for “their tireless efforts, working around the clock to navigate adverse conditions and challenging circumstances. Their dedication and resilience have not gone unnoticed, and we commend them for their selfless service during this trying time.”