Sokol helicopter crashes in Marawi; all aboard safe

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews /07 August) — A Philippine Air Force Sokol combat utility helicopter carrying the commander of the Army’s 4th Infantry Division crashed as it took off from Camp Ranao, headquarters of the Army 103rd Infantry Brigade, in Marawi City this afternoon, August 7, a military report said.

Maj. Gen. Ricardo Visaya, commanding general of the 4th Infantry Division and several of his staff survived the crash but a pilot of the Polish-made Sokol helicopter suffered a leg injury, a military spokesperson said.

The ill-fated helicopter, which crashed into a row of empty houses as it took off from Camp Ranao at about 2:26 p.m. Thursday, was a back-up helicopter to the party of Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Local Governments Secretary Mar Roxas and Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla, Maj. Christian Uy, Public Information Officer of the 4th Infantry Division said.

Uy said the Sokol helicopter bearing Gazmin and Roxas was first to take off followed by the second helicopter with Visaya on board.

“General Visaya has no injury and all aboard the helicopter except for the pilot was unscathed,” he said.

“Bumagsak sa harap namin” (the chopper crashed a few meters ahead of us,” said Governor Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), who was scheduled to take off next

Hataman told MIndaNews in a telephone interview that there were five helicopters ferrying officials to Marawi for the meeting of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Lasureco (Lanao del Sur Electric Cooperative) that is addressing the problems on the board and management of the electric cooperative.

The committee is composed of representatives of the Department of Energy, Department of National Defense and Department of Interior and Local Governments.

He said the first helicopter that took off from the camp was the helicopter of the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines which was ferrying Secretary Luwalhati Antonino of the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) to Iligan City.

Hataman said the next helicopter, another Sokol, was ferrying Gazmin, Roxas and Petilla to Cagayan de Oro, followed by the helicopter that would ferry Gen. Visaya which crashed just outside the perimeter fence of the camp.

Visaya’s helicopter, Hataman said, took off about 10 to 15 minutes after the helicopter of the Cabinet secretaries took off. He said the Cabinet secretaries returned to Marawi upon learning their back-up helicopter crashed.

The Poland-made Sokol helicopters are the latest acquisition of the Armed Forces of the  Philippine modernization program.

In his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 28, President Benigno Simeon Aquino III said that in the ongoing modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (APF), the country has acquired “brand new assets, including 8 Sokol Combat Utility Helicopters, 3 AgustaWestland-109 helicopters, and the first landing craft utility ship built right here in the country: the BRP Tagbanua, 4 refurbished UH-1 helicopters and 2 navy cutters have also arrived. This past May, we also inaugurated the Naval Forces West’s state-of-the-art Command Center in Palawan. Next year, 2 out of the 12 FA-50 lead-in fighter jets we procured will arrive in the country.

Thursday’s crash leaves the AFP with only seven Sokol helicopters. (Froilan Gallardo / MindaNews with a report from Carolyn O. Arguillas)