The nation of Belize is in mourning as four of our military men lost their lives in the line of duty. The men were on a mission, working with other law enforcement agencies in a drug operation yesterday that yielded 69 bales of cocaine inside a Gulfstream G2 jet. Tonight, our national security agencies, the families of the fallen soldiers and a country are saddened at this unprecedented tragedy. Renee Trujillo has the story.
The circumstances surrounding the incident will be investigated and until that investigation is completed, we have no answers as to what led to the accident or if it even was an accident. For now, what we can share with you is what we are being told by national security officials. A press conference was held this afternoon with all Commanders, the substantive minister and the minister of state as well as the Chief Executive Officers. We start with the opening statement of the National Security Minister, Michael Peyrefitte.
Michael Peyrefitte, Minister of National Security: “We reluctantly called this press conference, and I say reluctantly because the proper thing to do at this point would be to have the BDF and the entire national security apparatus grieve in peace, to have the families grieve in peace, however what trumps that is the will of the people to know the facts of what has happened and to put to rest all the false and irresponsible reporting on this matter. It’s not unusual for them to not report in constantly on their location unless there is an issue. In the past they have either landed at the site and waited there with the assistance or they would hover around for a couple hours and come back to base. In this case we assumed that they were on the site because it’s not unusual for them to be on the site but they would usually be back by about 4:30 in the evening or before it gets dark depending on the terrain. In this case thats when we became concerned when they did not return at night time. When we do the investigation we will look at an internal investigation to ensure that all proper protocols were followed as well as an external investigation to see if there was any foul play or any criminal activity. As I said we would not want to divulge that at this point until the full investigation is carried out.”
Speculations that came about was that the men were up in the air of their own accord and that they had no involvement in the drug bust. The national security officials denied these reports.
Brigadier General Steven Ortega – BDF Commander: “The helicopter left about 0400 however they have to do preliminary warm up and checks prior so you would hear the helicopter start up and lift up and everything because they do checks which are safety checks that is normal but they left for the operation about 0400.”
Felix Enriquez, CEO, Ministry of National Security: “Let me add as well that our pilots are very stringent about when they fly in terms of safety of the aircraft. They have been ordered not to fly unless they are absolutely sure of the conditions and if they could operate in those conditions and they would not have left unless they felt confident that they were in such a position.”
Reporter: Were you aware was this a sanctioned mission? Did you personally sanction this mission for these guys to go out there ?
Brigadier General Steven Ortega – BDF Commander: “Of course it’s a sanctioned mission. It is a sanctioned mission.”
Reporter: Because General there are credible reports and multiple reports coming out from the BDF that you didn’t know anything that these guys were out there. From what I was made to understand Mr. Baezar was actually on leave when Mr.Ramirez went to get him to go on this mission. Questions are being raised why Mr.Smith who was on duty and was there at the time wasn’t taken along with this mission.
Michael Peyrefitte, Minister of National Security: This is absolutely amazing that somebody from the media would take that information and form what they believe to be a credible question. Listen, I said earlier that this helicopter was a part of the team that led the mission to the capturing of this aircraft with the drugs. They were on an official mission. What happens from time to time and as you know this is not the first plane that has landed in Belize, it is not unusual for the helicopter not to be heard from once the mission is over because then sometimes they remain at the site or they hove.”
The men are now regarded as heroes; dying in the line of duty. The families are being supported by the Government and according to the National Security Minister, they will do all they can to support them.
Michael Peyrefitte, Minister of National Security: “At this point we have an investigation going on and we’ve also had an interest from US SouthCom and from the Honduras Military to see how in any way they can assist us in this rescue mission of the aircraft so that we can determine if possible exactly what happened.”
Elodio Aragon, Minister of State, Ministry of National Security: “I’d just like to say that at this point in time where we lost not only our personnel but we lost a wealth of experienced people from the military and of course assets to the Ministry of National Security those of us that are here right now we deeply regret this tragic situation and our condolences and sympathies go out to the entire family of our armed forces and definitely we want to let the public out there know that these people were in the execution of their duties their last day of life. It is sad on our party from the Ministry of National Security, it is a great loss. You all know our air wing in terms of having helicopters is only a couple of years now and for this tragedy to occur it is sad for all of us here and especially for our commander from the BDF who knew these persons personally. I think everybody that is before us right now here knows these persons personally so it is a great loss to us and I think the Belizean people out there must understand that these people were out there risking their lives in this operation and as Belizeans because I saw some posts on Facebook I mean it is sad when you see certain things and people commenting all kind of stuff. We must understand that these people were out there serving their country. I remember when Kobe passed away when they crashed in the helicopter there you had a lot of Belizeans oh mourning, we need to mourn for these people because these people were out there serving their country and they were serving this country Belize. I just wanted to make that point out there that people from here from the Ministry of National Security, our hearts are out there for these serving members of the BDF air wing and I just want to say that to the families out there we feel it because we know them, we know the work that they do, we know the service that they give to this country and I would just like them to know that here at the Ministry of National Security we’re doing everything possible to ensure we do a proper investigation in this regard and of course also to support them in whatever way we can.”
Reporter: In terms of the support that will be afforded these families from the Ministry level what is that ?
Michael Peyrefitte, Minister of National Security: Maximum support. The general will give us more details as to what is due to these servicemen and we will go over and above to do whatever we can for our fallen soldiers. Go back to what the previous question was and what the minister said before, remember that one of these pilots he was an instructor pilot, this man was going to train the next generation of pilots for the Belize Defense Force. The loss is immeasurable and generational so we have two highly decorated officers along with their highly decorated crew and the Government of Belize will do whatever as far as compensation can heal any kind of pain like this but we will do whatever we can to ensure that maximum support is given to their surviving families.”