Guyana’s government and the military have confirmed that five officers have died in a crash of a military helicopter that was transporting personnel on routine troop inspections near the western border with Venezuela on Wednesday.
Minister of Security, Robeson Benn Thursday confirmed the deaths and announced that flags at his and other government ministries will be flown at half staff in observance of the deaths near Arau mountain, about 30 miles east of the border with Venezuela. The Guyana Defense Force also said it will lower flags at all locations as it mourns its worst air crash fatalities in nearly 60 years.
“There have been losses, yes but they are still working on the situation. I am not prepared to say anything more,” Benn said.
The Guyana Defense Force has since released the names of the victims announcing that retired brigadier general and army project engineer Gary Beaton, pilot in command Mike Charles, 1st infantry battalion commander Col. Mike Shahoud, Lt. Col. Sean Welcome and Staff Sergeant Jason Kahn had perished. The two survivors were listed as co-pilot Andio Crawford and Corporal Wayne Jackson. Their condition is unknown.
Prime Minister Mark Phillips, himself a retired chief of staff and brigadier general said rescue teams are still in the area and a full investigation will be launched.
“We have to find out what happened. The search and rescue has now transitioned to a search and recovery. We know five people have died,” he told this publication. “We have to determine the cause.”
Government of Guyana
Later in the day, President Irfaan Ali took to his Facebook page to mourn the deaths, saying that my heart pains and drowns in sorrow at the tragic loss of some of our finest men in uniform. The scale of this loss to the families, our country, the GDF and to me personally is immeasurable. My trusted friends and comrades, my brothers how could this be? You loved your country above and beyond everything. Country and service were all that matter to you. I observe with so much honor, the pride you took in putting on your uniform. We became a family bonded in service and brotherhood. I have experienced the love of all of you and it is ripping me apart,” he said.
Initial reports have suggested that the Bell-412EP helicopter, commissioned in early July, might have crashed into a mountain in extremely bad, rainy and misty weather. This appears to have allayed fears that the aircraft might have been brought down by hostile fire from neighboring Venezuela, which has massed thousands of troops on its border as it threatens to annex Guyana’s western Essequibo region in a long running border row.