Cabinet convoy chopper crashes in Marawi

Posted at 08/07/14 8:25 PM

MARAWI CITY (2nd UPDATE) - A brand-new Philippine Air Force Sokol helicopter accompanying a Cabinet mission aerial convoy that included Interior Secretary Mar Roxas and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin crashed in Marawi City Thursday afternoon, leaving 2 people injured.

The helicopter, one of 8 bought by the Department of National Defense (DND) from Polish company PZL Swidnik for P2.8 billion, crashed near a house shortly after take-off from the Army's 103rd Infantry Brigade headquarters at Camp Ranao, the DND said.

It was serving as a back-up helicopter, which is similar to the aircraft that was carrying Roxas and Gazmin.

The utility helicopter was carrying 4th Infantry Division Commander Maj. Gen. Ricardo Visaya, 4th Infantry Division Inspector-General Col. Alexander Macario, and at least 10 other people.

The two military officials escaped unharmed while the two injured victims were identified as helicopter crew member Staff Sgt. Darius Valdez and a boy, Santiago Savedra, who was playing on the ground when he was hit by debris from the crash, a police report said.

"It was just an exhibition," Visaya said in jest after the crash. "About two or three minutes after takeoff, it couldn't gain further altitude. It then turned left and crashed. It didn't explode. No one killed among us but some were hurt."

He said the Cabinet officials including Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla visited an electricity project in Marawi City.

Petilla was in another aircraft, a Bell helicopter.

Visaya said the ill-fated Sokol was the third to take off from the ground.

"We were less than 50 feet (when the helicopter crashed)...Rescue teams from Marawi City responded very promptly," he said.

He said the helicopter was wrecked and can no longer be used.

Photos taken by TV Patrol Northern Mindanao showed the helicopter lying on its side on a wrecked house. Its rotor blades were detached and parts of the wrecked helicopter can be seen scattered on the ground.

The other Sokol helicopter carrying Gazmin and Roxas turned around to check on the condition of the downed Sokol.

Visaya joined Gazmin and Roxas in their Sokol helicopter that later safely landed in Cagayan de Oro City.

The other passengers of the ill-fated helicopter travelled by land.

Capt. Franco Suelto, spokesman of the 1st Infantry Division, said the Sokol helicopter encountered engine failure.

"It encountered technical failure after takeoff," he said.

Armed Forces Public Affairs office chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, meanwhile, blamed strong winds for the incident. "The Sokol chopper crashed about 2:23 p.m due to loss of control when heavy winds struck the aircraft."

The DND, in a statement Thursday, said it has launched an investigation to look into the cause of the crash.

Zagala said Air Force Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Delgado is leading the investigation.

The 7 other Sokol choppers have been grounded pending the results of the investigation.

Another Sokol helicopter, which is part of the 8 delivered by PZL Swidnik, was earlier stuck at the Armed Forces general headquarters. The incident was reportedly caused by a battery problem. - with reports from Roxanne Arevalo, ABS-CBN News Iligan; dzMM; ANC