Director General of the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Egbert Field, has disclosed that the black box which was retrieved from the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) helicopter that crashed last month claiming the lives of five servicemen is yet to be examined by experts in the United States.
Last month, Public Works Minister Juan Edghill disclosed that the black box was handed over to US’s National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) for the retrieval of data to aid the ongoing investigation in ascertaining the circumstances that led to the tragic December 6, 2023 crash.
The incident claimed the lives of Brigadier (Retired) Gary Beaton; Lieutenant Colonel Michael Shahoud; Lieutenant Colonel Sean Welcome; Lieutenant Colonel Michael Charles, and Warrant Officer Class II Jason Khan. Two soldiers survived the crash: Corporal Dwayne Jackson and Lieutenant Andio Crawford.
An accident and incident investigator has been appointed in the person of GCAA’s Airworthiness Inspector, Krishnanand Ramlachana, who is leading the probe. Ramlachana was the one who took the black box to the Washington DC-based NTSB last month.
“We’re still waiting on them [at NTSB] to schedule what time [and date] they will be either listening or reading the box… They just put it in the queue and you wait for a response from them… So, the Chief Investigator would be following up with them,” the GCAA Head told this publication.
Since the horrific incident, there have been talks regarding the extraction of the wreckage from the crash site. Based on reports, the helicopter suffered significant damage, particularly in the fuselage, with only a few pieces remaining.
Asked whether there were any plans to do the extraction, Field explained to this publication that the Chief Investigator would have to make that decision.
“I don’t know. That will be a decision for the Chief Investigator to decide on. If he wants to visit the site or to have the chopper [brought out so that] …he has all the information, but he will make that decision,” the Director General stated.
In addition to the GCAA, the Guyana Police Force (GPF) is also conducting an investigation into the deadly crash while the GDF has also launched a Board of Inquiry, which is still ongoing.
On December 6, the Bell 412 helicopter, with registration 8R-AYA, left GDF Headquarters at Camp Ayanganna at 09:24h, and travelled 144 miles to Olive Creek, where it arrived at 10:27h. After refuelling, the helicopter departed at 10:58h for a 58-mile journey to Arau, Region Seven (Cuyuni-Mazaruni) near Guyana’s border with Venezuela.
Contact was lost with the aircraft, and an Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) alert was received about 11:19h.
The GDF had said the chopper was on a command trip to Arau, Macapa, and Eteringbang, as part of Guyana’s response to an “imminent threat to our territory”. The specified helicopter possesses an unladen weight of 3207kg, an internal payload capacity of 2190kg, a maximum total weight of 5398kg, and a cargo hook capability of 2041kg.
The Bell 412 Epi helicopter also had a system designed to warn the pilot of obstacles ahead, enabling them to take evasive measures. However, it has been disclosed by the GDF that only the aircraft’s black box holds the potential to offer insights into this capability.
Lieutenant Crawford and Corporal Jackson were finally extracted from the crash site after two days and multiple thwarted attempts by the search-and-rescue team to rescue them. Adverse weather conditions in the mountains of Region Seven had posed a multitude of challenges for the survivors to be rescued.
Brigadier Beaton was the project engineer; Colonel Shahoud, an Attorney-at-Law, was Commander of the 1st Infantry Battalion; Lieutenant Colonel Charles was the pilot; Lieutenant Colonel Welcome was the Commanding Officer of the Reserve Battalion; and Khan, who was posthumously promoted from the rank of Staff Sergeant to Warrant Officer Class II, was from the 31 Special Forces Squadron.
This publication was reliably informed that the two surviving soldiers are yet to resume duty, and are still undergoing extensive counselling.