Belize - Belize News - Channel5Belize.com - Great Belize Productions - Belize Breaking News
Home » Featured, Miscellaneous, People & Places » Human Error Caused Fatal B.D.F. Helicopter Crash?
Mar 11, 2020

Human Error Caused Fatal B.D.F. Helicopter Crash?

Was human error the cause of the fatal B.D.F. helicopter crash? That’s what the Honduras Air Force Accident Prevention and Investigation Board says is the preliminary, probable cause.  The Ministry of National Security released the written report into the cause of the crash on Tuesday evening.  But the report also looks at a number of factors that could have contributed to the fatal crash, including the use of cell-phone, weather conditions and the lack of night vision equipment. The report’s prelim determination is that the crew experienced spatial disorientation when it was making a right turn and led them to rush against the water, without having enough time to identify the situation and react with the use of flight controls. News Five’s Andrea Polanco delves into the report.

 

Andrea Polanco, Reporting

On February twenty-seventh, a helicopter from the B.D.F., was discovered in the Gales Point Wildlife Sanctuary’s western lagoon off the coastal road. On board the helicopter were the B.D.F.’s top pilot and highly qualified pilot instructor, Major Radford Baizar; the B.D.F.’s Air Wing Commander and co-pilot on the mission Major Adran Ramirez and two crew members Corporals Yassir Mendez and Reynaldo Choco. All four men were found dead on board. What caused the helicopter to go down? According to the twenty-three page report produced by Honduran Air Force Accident Prevention and Investigation Board, one of the probable causes of the accident is human error. The report concluded that because the mission was being carried out during hours with limited visibility, no night goggles vision equipment, and in poor flying weather conditions, coupled with the findings that “probably one of the pilots was making reports or receiving information via cell phone, which may create an optical illusion and spatial disorientation in the pilot in command of the flight controls at the time.” The report noted that this could have affected the pilots which caused the pilot to put the aircraft into an unusual position causing him to lose control and descend at a steep angle which led to the fatal accident.  The only mention of helicopter near the site of the drug plane on the morning of the operation is one line mention that states quote, according to a witness who was on land near the clandestine landing area, the helicopter could be heard approaching the area but at approximately 10:30 UTC or 4:30 local time, the sound of the helicopter was not heard again, causing the impression that it had returned to its base or that it had gone to another place.”  The written report also noted that it is not known if the crew had instructions to land or just fly over the area. On Friday, February twenty-eight, Minister of National Security pointed out that the men would hover or land based on past experiences.

 

Michael Peyrefitte

Michael Peyrefitte, Minister of National Security [File: February 28th, 2020]

“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 report outlined the use of cell phone onboard the helicopter as one of the factors that could have created optical illusions and affected the pilot and could have led to the steep descent which resulted in the fatal accident. The report states that, “according to comments made by B.D.F staff and by the internal investigation board, minutes before the accident, this is at 4:27 Belize time, one of the pilots was making reports via WhatsApp, since it is assumed that they were required by the crew.” The report also points out that the last message sent at 4:30 that morning and went unanswered, it is estimated that this would be the time of the accident.  The use of cell-phone, according the Ministry of National Security and Belize Defense Force, is for WhatsApp messages to communicate and is a common practice because the B.D.F. lacks the equipment. Here’s what they shared on Tuesday about the use of cell-phones during an operation.

 

Andrea Polanco

“From your end, is WhatsApp the only or the preferred medium used to communication when you are out on missions?”

 

 

Steven Ortega

Brig. Gen. Steven Ortega, Commander, B.D.F. [File: March 10th, 2020]

“At times because that is what is available.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“Okay – is there any other form of communication that you would use?”

 

 Brig. Gen. Steven Ortega

“Sure. We use radios but it depends on the availability and location you are at.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“So, radios wouldn’t have been an option that morning, you are saying?”

 

Brig. Gen. Steven Ortega

“Could be. I am not sure, because it was JIOC conduction the operation.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“But, you as the general, don’t you ensure that when your men go out that they are equipped; or your person in charge of operations, would he not have checked those things?”

 

Brig. Gen. Steven Ortega

“It is a JIOC run operation through the air wing. They know what they need and they send out that requirement.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“So, JIOC knows all the procedures of the B.D.F.?”

 

Brig. Gen. Steven Ortega

“No, the air wing knows what they need for an operation that they have been tasked to do. And if that was the preferred method then they would use that.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“So, JIOC determines that is used you are saying?”

 

Brig. Gen. Steven Ortega

“…for certain missions.”

 

Reporter

“Have you in the past, passed on a concern to your higher ups that there was no radio communication available for the men in the air wing and that they had to be relying on WhatsApp?”

 

Brig. Gen. Steven Ortega, Commander, B.D.F.

“The ministry has a list of requirements from us.”

 

Reporter

“What does that mean?”

 

Brig. Gen. Steven Ortega

“A list of requirements; resources that is required.”

 

Reporter

“Meaning that you have made a request to the Ministry for such equipment; for appropriate equipment?”

 

Brig. Gen. Steven Ortega

“Various equipment. Various equipment.”

 

Reporter

“Did radio include one of them? How long ago was that made?”

 

Brig. Gen. Steven Ortega

“We do it every year around the budget time.”

 

Reporter

“So, then no radios were gotten last year or the year before since the airwing became operational, when you got these two helicopters?”

 

Brig. Gen. Steven Ortega

“That answers it. That answers your question – you answered your question. We have requested.”

 

Michael Peyrefitte, Minister of National Security

“The answer is no!”

 

Brig. Gen. Steven Ortega, Commander, B.D.F.

“We have requested. What else can I say?”

 

Another big factor that may have played a role in the fatal accident was weather condition that morning. The report says, “likewise it is theorized that according to the flight conditions, the crew began a right turn with a descending vertical speed of one thousand feet per minute, which possibly caused a spatial disorientation in the crew since they were performing a night flight, under unfavorable atmospheric conditions, not using night vision goggles equipment and also flying over water. The investigators say that a weather report from the Met Service showed a strong cold front was crossing the country in the early hours of the morning of February 27th, with showers, thunderstorms and periods of rain.  The report states, “Also, a very low ceiling between five hundred and a thousand feet. Additionally, visibility was predicted reduced from four to five kilometers and the five-thirty a.m forecast warns severe turbulence from strong winds and gusts of twenty-five to thirty knots.” The report concluded that the prevailing atmospheric conditions were not favourable for carrying out this flight mission on a low-altitude night flight. Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.


Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

Advertise Here

Comments are closed