CAGAYAN DE ORO (MindaNews / 17 January) — The ill-fated Philippine Air Force Huey UH-1H helicopter did not explode on impact when it crashed on the edge of a ricefield in the mountains of Bukidnon Saturday afternoon, killing all seven passengers and crew on board.
Major Rodulfo Cordero Jr., spokesperson of the 4th Infantry Division identified the fatalities as Lt. Col. Arnie Arroyo; 2Lt. Mark Anthony Caabay and their crew; Sgt. Melven Bersabe and A1C Stephen Agarrado; Sgt. Julius Salvado of the Philippine Army, and militiamen Jerry Ayocdo and Jhamel Sugalang of the 8th Infantry Battalion.
Their bodies were recovered and brought to Malaybalay City late Saturday night.
Troops who reached the crash site at Sitio Nahigit, Barangay Bulonay, Impasug-ong town late Saturday afternoon found the aircraft “a total wreck” but did not explode and was not in flames.
The military earlier identified the crash site to be near Barangay Busdi, Malaybalay City but corrected it Sunday adding that the crash site can be reached by vehicles from Impasug-ong town.
Lt. Col. Edgardo Talaroc Jr., commander of the Army’s 8th Infantry Battalion said the helicopter did not explode.
Talaroc said soldiers and militiamen who responded to the incident found the wreckage of the ill-fated helicopter amid banana plants on the edge of a rice field.
“The bodies of the fatalities were still strapped to their seats but were badly mangled,” Talaroc said.
He said six bodies were found inside the downed helicopter while the seventh body was found a few meters away — apparently thrown off by the impact.
Talaroc said the downed aircraft did not burn as earlier feared.
The Vietnam vintage helicopter with tail number 517 and another Huey helicopter were ferrying supplies, ammunition and troops from the 403rd Infantry Brigade in Malaybalay City to the military bases in Pantaron mountain range last Friday and Saturday, according to Talaroc.
He said the choppers made two ferry missions to their camp Saturday morning and was flying for its third mission when one of the helicopters crashed at around 2:30 p.m.
“The choppers carried food supplies and ammo on the first two missions. They were carrying troops for replacements on their last and fatal mission,” Talaroc said.
Major Gen. Andres Centeno, commander of the 4th Infantry Division said the pilots of the second Huey helicopter noticed smoke trailing from the ill-fated aircraft.
Centeno said the pilots radioed the ill-fated aircraft on what they saw and got confirmation from its co-pilot that they were executing a turn to return.
Talaroc said residents of Sitio Nahigit recalled seeing the helicopter turn then suddenly nosedive to the ground. (Froilan Gallardo / MindaNews)