Seven months ago the country went into shock and hundreds mourned as the news surfaced that four soldiers of the Belize Defence Force (BDF) crashed and died in the area of the Gales Point Wildlife Sanctuary. The bodies of the soldiers, Major Adran Ramirez; Major Radford Baizar, along with their two crew members Corporal Yassir Mendez and Corporal Reinaldo Choco were retrieved at the crash site along with the debris from the H1N1 helicopter the men were traveling in. An investigation was launched into the incident after multiple contradicting reports were coming out including allegations of shady business. That investigation is very near completion and according to the Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Natioal Security, Felix Enriquez, several BDF personnel will be charged while the compensation promised to the families of the soldiers will be distributed shortly.
Felix Enriquez, COE in the Ministry of National Security: “I’m glad you brought that up and I’m happy to say that yes the investigation has been wrapped up. There is still a report that we are waiting for if I recall properly from what Admiral Borland said and he’s the one in charge of the entire investigation. The Mexican armed forces was supposed to wrap up some part of the technical investigation with regard to the aircraft it self and that report has not yet been concluded but everything else including the report from the US company Bell who are the ones who make the engine for the U1H1 helicopter they have sent back their report as well and so the final report of it’s recommendation has been sent to to the Minister and there are some charges that will be laid on some of the officers within the force but that is in it’s full effect and those things will take place. In terms of the compensation I know that last week the Accountant General was making some final inquiries at the BDF with regards to one of the officers that they weren’t certain of, one of the dates of promotion because they have to get it completely right but I think that was the last hold up. From there it means- because it’s already at the Accountant General’s Office it means that from there it should go to income tax I believe for them to verify whatever is to be verified there and it’s going through the process. Our Ministry has offered to the attorneys to help them to speed it up but it’s going through the process they’re almost there and I’m certain that if bar some kind of really outlandish delay they should be getting their compensation very soon.”
Upon the deaths of the four men a vacuum was created in the Air Wing Unit of the force. The powers that be were forced to bring Colonel Raymond Sheppard out of retirement to move the unit forward. According to CEO Enriquez the force is being tremendously supported by the United States.
Felix Enriquez, COE in the Ministry of National Security: “I’m not sure if you’re aware but the commander of the unit we went ahead and hired retired Col. Shepherd who commanded the BDF air wing before. Thankfully Col. Shepherd was willing to come back and serve for a period of time. We have had pilots in training in Jamaica that are back in Belize and so we’re still short of our best two pilots because to be honest those were our best two pilots to my mind but we are very proud of the fleet of pilots that we have right now and they are undergoing some training that will qualify them to go solo in certain areas. We’ve been getting some really good assistance from the US in terms of building the air wing back to its full capacity and making it even better. We’ve done some revision of the operating procedures and Col. Shepherd who is also an attorney is well placed in getting the air wing back in the shape that it’s supposed to be getting and in so we’re confident that very soon we’ll be up to speed.”
Reporter: When was he contracted and for how long?
Felix Enriquez, COE in the Ministry of National Security: “Col.Shepherd came aboard, wow I believe for months now I think either in May or June thereabouts and he was contracted in the first instance for one year but that is not to say we won’t extend him for as long as we need him or as long as he’s willing to stay.”
Love News has learnt that in terms of the cause of the helicopter crash the investigation has indicated that there was no mechanical or engineering failure.
Felix Enriquez, COE in the Ministry of National Security: “The investigation as I recall it the primary cause was disorientation by the pilots. Because it was a night time flying I believe or they got disorientated that’s what the investigation is pointing to primarily as to what caused the plane to actually go down. The engine of the plane, the mechanism of the helicopter was not at fault as far as what I had read and I would go that far I wouldn’t say anything else. That report that report that refers to that part of it I think has been made public and it’s all there.”
Reporter: Now you talk about possible charges being levied is this because protocol was defied or not really followed leading up to the entire incident ? What charges are we looking at ?
Felix Enriquez, COE in the Ministry of National Security: “Renee I don’t have the facts in front of me but yes I think yes I would say that some protocol were not followed. Proper procedure was not followed, there were errors leading up to the authority for the aircraft to depart, there were some errors in monitoring the operation from start to finish so that the time that they realized that the aircraft was missing there was some errors there as well and were they following the right procedure that would not have happened and so I believe the recommendation for charges have been laid along those lines.”
Reporter: In the first instance allegations had surfaced against you the CEO saying that you were the one who sanctioned the flight and you were the one who gave the directive and basically that you jumped protocol, how would you respond to that ?
Felix Enriquez, COE in the Ministry of National Security: “It’s laughable Renee and if I recall how it was termed it said the person was a hundred percent sure of something that absolutely did not happen. How would you be a hundred percent sure unless you were with me at 2am in the morning or with one of the pilots? But up to telephone records were taken and could have shown that no at the Ministry we did not have anything to do with the aircraft departing. They also alleged that the commander did not know when in fact we realized from the investigation that the commander actually was aware of what was happening or at least that the aircraft was being asked to depart and so those are just ridiculous but the important thing for me was that we were all grieving, the families of the deceased men were definitely in a lot of grief and so we didn’t want to make it any more ridiculous than it already was in terms of the allegation that were flying around. It was an emotional time for the force, for the Ministry, for the country and so these things happen where people start to spew allegations and that’s why we said you know let the investigation take its course and all the stupidity that was being spewed around would have been addressed and they were.”
The investigation was led by Admiral John Borland with assistance from their counterparts in Honduras, Mexico and from the US Southern Command.”