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Better helicopter, other equipment needed for Search and Rescue; failed ELTs under scrutiny

Left to right: Trans Guyana Airways Chief Pilot, Andre Farinha; Chief Finance Officer, Nicole Correia and CEO Michael Correia at a news conference on Tuesday.

Trans Guyana Airways (TGA) on Tuesday recommended better helicopter support and advanced technologies to rappel a search and rescue team immediately after spotting a crash-site in the dense jungle.

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of TGA, Michael Correia issued the call for a “more powerful” helicopter against the background of the fact that the downed single-engine Cessna Caravan was sighted 12:34 Sunday afternoon but it was not until early Monday morning that Special Forces soldiers were able to reach the location.

Correia said the two small GDF helicopters were unsuitable and life-threatening for rappelling personnel into a very narrow forest opening and windy conditions. “The use of a more powerful helicopter would be very useful…They are not able to rappel down using the smaller helicopters. They are not very powerful enough, physically unsafe,” he said.

The Guyana Defence Force’s (GDF) large Bell 412 helicopter, which government had planned selling several years ago, has been down for repairs and maintenance for several weeks now and only recently was forced to make an emergency landing in a Soesdyke highway community because the engine began vibrating.

Using one of the small choppers, Special Forces instead landed in a small cleared area and then moved to the crash site on foot.

In the wake of the crash, the airline intends to seek answers about why the Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) was not activated on impact to allow the Search And Rescue (SAR) team to pin-point the precise location of the wreckage.

Correia noted that the records showed that the Artex 406 ELTs, which is recommended by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), have not emitted signals in a number of other crashes. He noted that the company changed from a “less accurate” ELT in 2009 to Artex.  “These things are supposed to be a lot more accurate but the problem I think and we’ll have to leave it to the experts to determine is that they are not triggered in even a fairly horrific accident like what we have so that is obviously a big concern,” he said.

Chief Executive Officer of Ogle Airport Incorporated (OAI), Anthony Mekdeci also suggested that aircraft involved in SAR missions be fitted with infrared devices to detect the temperature of aircraft in contrast to that of dense forest. “Whether we can get access to it or have it on a GDF helicopter it would make the time significantly shorter from when an aircraft goes down to when we find it,” said Mekdeci.

The bodies of Canadian pilot, Blake Slater and Guyanese Cargo Loader, Dwayne Jacobs Newton were taken out of the jungle late Tuesday morning and taken to funeral homes in the city.

TGA’s Chief Finance Officer, Nicole Correia said it would take less than one year before insurance benefits are paid to surviving beneficiaries. That time period, airline officials said, would allow for investigations to be conducted and for international accident assessors to complete their work.

When the plane went down Saturday morning two minutes after take off, it was shuttling seven drums of fuel weighing 2,800 pounds from Olive Creek to Imbaimadai. The plane had a capacity to fetch 3,000 pounds minus fuel.

The crash site, located about 2.8 miles from the take-off airstrip, has been taken over by the GCAA whose inspectors were up to Tuesday at the scene as part of their probe.

Officials said the pilot did not report any problems with the aircraft which had already done several shuttle flights for Saturday. The downed plane underwent complete maintenance on December 31, 2013 and inspected by the GCAA on January 7,2014, TGA officials said.

TGA pledged to cooperate fully with the GCAA and said it would encourage experts from the Caribbean Aviation Safety and Security Oversight System (CASSOS) and the plane’s engine manufacturer to come to Guyana to assist in the investigation. “We are fully cooperating with the local Civil Aviation authorities and we will request whatever international assistance that may be required,” said Correia.

Captain Slater joined TGA three years ago as a junior pilot and became a command pilot on the Cessna Grand Caravan in April, 2013. He was born in Guyana but his mother is Guyanese. He had a total of more than 3,000 flying hours of which 2,522 were on the Caravan. “He has enjoyed the reputation of being a thoroughly disciplined pilot.”

Jacobs,28, joined TGA as a Handyman in July 2004 and was promoted to Aircraft Loader “as a result of his dedication to his job,” the company said.