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Mar 2, 2020

Investigation underway into fatal heli crash!

Tonight, flags are flying at half mast at public buildings as the country mourns the deaths of four B.D.F. officers. The wreckage of the helicopter was removed from the crash site in Gales Point Lagoon over the weekend and experts are assessing the damage and cause of the crash. The remnants of the chopper have been taken to the Williamson Hanger. The Prime Minister confirmed to News Five that he will speak after an ongoing investigation is completed. That investigation teams are from the British, Mexicans, U.S. and local counterparts. At this stage, the Honduran experts have indicated that there are no bullet holes on the chopper as was widely speculated. Here is News Five’s Andrea Polanco with a report.

 

Andrea Polanco, Reporting

The deaths of Major Adran Ramirez; Major Radford Baizar; Corporal Yassir Mendez and Corporal Reinaldo Choco are under investigation. The wreckage of the crash was removed over the weekend. The Ministry reports that twenty-five members of the Honduran Naval Team and a helicopter recovered the remnants of the crashed aircraft and transported it to the BDF Air Wing. The B.D.F soldiers were reportedly providing air surveillance support for the law enforcement agencies who intercepted the drug plane off the Coastal Road on Thursday morning sometime between four and four-thirty. The men’s bodies weren’t discovered until the following day. On Friday the Minister of National Security said that it wasn’t unusual for the men to be gone for hours without checking in:

 

Michael Peyrefitte, Minister of National Security

Michael Peyrefitte

“Normally, when we have the air assistance from the helicopter, it is standard procedure for that helicopter to either stay on the ground with the supporting troops or they would hover in the immediate area to see if they can discover or get any additional clues towards the landing of the plane. They would veer coastally if they can to see if there are any incoming boats or even on land if we can see any vehicles that were escaping from the plane, especially since in this instance we didn’t arrest any persons concerning the plane that landed. It is not unusual for the helicopter to hover in the area or even land on ground on the site. It is equally not unusually for the helicopter to remain for the entire day at the site with the support of the composite team or other supporting members of the Belize Police Department or the B.D.F. The only time they would usually radio in is when there is a situation and so when they didn’t radio in by evening yesterday, there was no reason for alarm.”

 

That reason for alarm came much later that evening, according to the Minister. When night time approached they realized the men were gone and they reportedly launched a search that same evening. While best information to News 5 say that the search was launched until the following day sometime between eight and nine on Friday morning – the Ministry refuted that. Several accounts of the series of events that happened on Friday morning also allege that the Commander Steven Ortega didn’t know about his men’s involvement in the deadly mission and only found out that Friday morning. Sources at the B.D.F have cited concerns about this because they allege that the chain of command wasn’t followed, among other breach of protocols. Here’s how Ortega responded on Friday:

 

Andrea Polanco

“Were you aware that this was…..it is a sanctioned mission”

 

Steven Ortega

Steven Ortega

“While there are many questions about what happened that day – the families of the men will now await the results of an investigation being carried out. According to the Ministry of National Security Chief of Defence Staff Admiral John Borland is leading the investigative teams and he and his team are gathering the information to assimilate the facts surrounding the U1HI fatal helicopter crash. Borland will be assisted by lead investigator Captain Elton Bennett of the Belize Coast Guard; Colonel Asriel Lorea, Deputy Commander of the B.D.F. The investigative team will be assisted by the BASTUB, the US Military Liaison Office and the Mexican Military. In addition, a team from Bell Flight Safety Group, who are specialized in the U1H1 Helicopter, is expected to arrive in-country today to conduct an air accident investigation along with the Belize Department of Civil Aviation.   An initial report is expected to be produced within three days and a final report is expected in 14 days.”

 

Andrea Polanco Reporting for News 5.

 


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