It has been 13 days since the BDF chopper went down in the Gales Point Lagoon after being a part of a drug bust in the area. While the bust yielded 69 parcels of cocaine in a Gulfstream jet, it also resulted in the deaths of four BDF soldiers. The reports coming out of the office of the Ministry of National Security are limited and have left more questions than answers. The U1H1 chopper went down on February 27 and on February 28 the bodies of the four soldiers were retrieved from the lagoon among the debris of the helicopter. One of the initial questions that came about was the time it took to realize that the four men were unaccounted for and had not initiated any communication with personnel on the ground. In a press conference held by the ministry on February 28, Minister of National Security, Michael Peyrefitte reported that it was not out of the ordinary for the men to not check in with those on the ground for an extended period. In this instance, it had been more than twelve hours since the men had checked in before it was realized that something was wrong. For context, we bring back this excerpt from the February 28 press conference.
Hon.Michael Peyrefitte, Minister of National Security: “It’s not unusual as I said for the helicopter to hover in the area or even land on the ground on the site. It is equally not unusual for the helicopter to remain for the entire day at the site with the support of the composite team or other supporting members of the Belize Police Department or the BDF. The only time they would usually radio in is when there’s a situation and so when they did not radio in by evening yesterday (February 27th 2020) there was no need for alarm. However when dusk came and night set in it became of immediate concern to the BDF that the helicopter had not returned back to base at Williamson. Immediately the Belize Defense Force kicked in their standard operating procedures for search and a full fledged search began last night for the helicopter and the four people on the helicopter, two pilots and two support crew.”
Yesterday afternoon, 12 days following the first press conference, a preliminary report was given to the media. In that report, a timeline was given on the communication had between Major Adran Ramirez in the chopper and the head of the operations, Major Justo Veliz who was on the ground. In this report, it was acknowledged that the last time communication from the chopper was at 4:33 am, yet no alarm was sounded.
Hon.Michael Peyrefitte, Minister of National Security: “Major Ramirez messaged Major Velis of JIOC at around 4:33am and then Major Velis responded at around 4:35am by saying “Great help brethren. Thanks.” At this point the specific purpose of the helicopter in the mission had been served and it was expected that the helicopter would return to base. Of note as well is that when Major Velis sent that last text message to Major Ramirez, Whatsapp message by phone, the usual two ticks that you would see when you send a Whatsapp message to indicate that the other person has received it and for some people who don’t have their private messaging thing turned on kind of thing it would turn blue or green to indicate that the person received it and has read it. Sometimes when you send a message you see only one tick which means that the person did not receive it at all much less read it. That last text that Major Velis sends to Major Ramirez that says “Great help brethren, thanks.” only had one tick indicating that in normal circumstances then Major Ramirez did not receive that Whatsapp message. That 4:33am message from Major Ramirez was the last communication from him.”
Following the 7-minute preliminary report presented yesterday by Minister Peyrefitte, the senior officials in national security were still unable to ascertain what the protocol was when it comes to communication and checking in back the helicopter to the Air Wing. While it is understood that an investigation would be carried out on whether or not protocol was followed, the media was unable to get a satisfactory response as to what is the protocol at the BDF Air Wing Unit.
Reporter: Based upon the preliminary report the last communication was a single tick and not a double tick on the Whatsapp message and then the preliminary report says that the following morning around 10am or something to that effect the four bodies were located and extracted -what is the protocol between 4:14 or at the last communication of “Good job. Thumbs Up?” What’s the protocol for landing the helicopter, reporting into the chain of command to the satisfaction of yourself as commander that your men who you have sent on a mission have returned ? What is that protocol that you as the commander are satisfied that your most expensive asset and men are back on the ground ?
Hon.Michael Peyrefitte, Minister of National Security: “That will be revealed in the investigation and it will be revealed when we have another report.”