LAWMAKERS and officials have pressed anew the need for the Philippine National Police to procure helicopters and other air assets in the wake of a November 15 incident in which four PNP generals and nine others were nearly killed when the Air Force Sokol helicopter carrying them crashed-landed in Puerto Princesa City.
Senator Joseph Victor ‘JV’ Ejercito renewed his call for the provision of needed logistical requirements of the PNP which, according to him still has no ‘available air assets’ up to this day forcing the police force to avail of the services of the Air Force.
The lawmaker said the Puerto Princesa City incident stressed the need for the PNP to acquire new choppers. “Thus, I would like to reiterate my appeal to the Senate committee on finance to provide for a sufficient budget to the PNP in order for it to purchase at least two to three brand-new choppers,” he said.
“It is unfortunate that the PNP currently does not have any single flying air asset. This is a necessity, not a luxury. This will be essential in fighting crime and maintaining peace and order,” Ejercito added.
In hearing the budget of the PNP at the Senate several weeks ago, Ejercito had already noted the lack of any provision in the proposed P3.35 trillion national budget for 2017 for the acquisition of new choppers for the country’s police force.
The senator then moved for the realignment of funds to pave for the possible acquisition of brand-new choppers which will cost about $2.4 million or roughly about P100 million per aircraft, if not rehabilitate the remaining three units.
“This is really unacceptable for me that we don’t have a so-called eye in the sky,” he said at the hearing of the Senate finance committee on the P148.7-billion proposed budget of the Department of the Interior and Local Government.
Ejercito had noted that in the existing budget, they have appropriated P13 million for the repair of two R-44 Raven helicopters for use of the PNP which has no air assets for the past three years now.
The two other R-44 Raven helicopters are still a subject of a pending Sandiganbayan court case while three Eurocopters are in need of overhaul. However, he said the PNP needs to spend at least $800,000 to $1 million to put each Eurocopter unit in good flying condition.
“A brand-new Eurocopter costs $2.5 million or P100 million so if we will replace all three choppers that would be $6 million already. At least we will have three helicopters instead of one brand-new chopper. But brand-new is better because the PNP can use it for 12 to 15 years without encountering any problem,” the senator said.
For the second time, the Polish-supplied Sokol helicopter crashed after developing engine trouble in mid-air nearly killing its 13 passengers. The officials had a near brush with death when the Air Force Sokol combat helicopter carrying them crash-landed in an open field in Puerto Princesa City reportedly due to engine trouble, the second time that a similar Sokol helicopter had crashed reportedly due to mechanical failure.
Officials said that the helicopter failed to immediately take off as its rotors were not functioning perfectly. However, after revving up for over 30 minutes, the pilot decided to fly until one of the chopper’s two engines conked out while the aircraft was around 7,000 feet above the ground.
Flying only on one engine, the pilot looked for a safe place to land until the second engine conked out. The pilot lost control of the helicopter which landed on its belly on an open field in Sitio Sabang in Bgy. Cabayugan in Puerto Princesa City.
Of the 13 officers on board the Sokol aircraft no. 29, only Chief Superintendent Nestor Bergonia and the helicopter’s co-pilot identified as Major Mechael Yraola suffered minor injuries while the rest were unharmed.
The nine were identified as Chief Superintendents Wilben M. Mayor, the Police Regional Office 4-B director; Chief Supt. Camilo Pancratius Cascolan, the PNP Director for Operations; Chief Supt. Amador Corpuz, the PNP Secretary to the Directorial Staff; Senior Supt. Renato Angara, the PRO4-B deputy regional director for administration; PNP-DO budget officer, Supt. Richard Bud-ang; Mayor’s aide-de-camp, Senior Inspector Ronnie Simpao; Cascolan’s aide Senior Inspector Rocky John Dalida; Colonel Jesus Guevarra; pilot, 1Lt. Gino Solavo; and crewmen, Sergeant Dunhill Guanzon and Airman First Class Mark Masangkay were unhurt in the crash-landing.
A PRO4-B report said the Sokol aircraft met the accident while the officers were conducting an aerial survey as part of their security preparations for the 6th ASEAN Chief Justices meeting.
All 13 were airlifted from the crash site around 4:14 p.m. of the same day and brought to the Camp General Artemio Station Hospital for a medical check-up.
Bergonia suffered a small cut above his eye when he hit a part of the helicopter’s machinegun during the crash-landing while Maj. Yraola sustained some minor leg injuries. Sources said some of the officials filmed their situation while they were descending down the ground from about 7,000 feet.
Both Mayor and Cascolan told the Journal Group that they were unharmed in the incident but praised the helicopter’s pilot for skillfully maneuvering the aircraft after it developed engine trouble in mid-air. Cascolan said the helicopter totally lost power about 10 feet from the ground and tilted as a result of the crash impact. An air crash investigation is now underway to determine the cause of the mechanical failure.
The Air Force acquired eight Sokol search-and-rescue/combat helicopters and turned the aircrafts over to the PAF’s 505th Search and Rescue Group. One of the Sokol multi-purpose helicopters crashed in August 2014 in Marawi City prompting the Department of National Defense to ask for an explanation from PZL-Swidnik S.A., the Polish firm that supplied the helicopters.
The former Aquino government purchased eight Sokol combat utility worth P2.8 billion from PZL-Swidnik S.A. The package included ground support equipment, spare parts, support services and training for aircrew and maintainers.
The first batch composed of four helicopters was delivered in February 2012 while the second batch consisting of two more arrived nine months later. The final two helicopters were delivered in February 2013.
During the 2014 crash, the Sokol helicopter was carrying 11 people. Air Force officials denied it was overloaded since it has a maximum capacity of 13 people. The Air Force has grounded all Sokol helicopters as a precautionary measure following the latest incident.
In the 2014 crash, the Sokol helicopter was escorting another Sokol carrying then Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and then Department of the Interior and Local Government Sec. Mar Roxas.
The helicopter was carrying a future Armed Forces chief, then Army’s 4th Infantry Division chief Maj. Gen. Ricardo Visaya, 4th Infantry Division Inspector-General Col. Alexander Macario, five staff members of Gazmin and four crewmembers, including the two pilots.
However, the helicopter’s gunner and a civilian were hurt during the incident. Prior to that, one of the Sokol helicopters landed in the news in 2013 after it got stuck at the AFP general headquarters’ parade grounds in Camp Aguinaldo for five days reportedly due to technical problems.