Helicopter investigations are spinning out of control

The helicopter crash on April 4, which killed all six on board, has raised more questions than have been answered. The weather was fine, the aircraft in good condition and there appeared to be nothing untoward.

Preliminary investigations threw up several contradictions: A witness saw an explosion, but the authorities claim the black box indicates none. An investigator suspects an explosion, but the bodies show no signs of an explosion. A witness saw the plane nose-dive, but the data was inconclusive. Mariam Mokhtar in an AntDaily posting writes this commentary:

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Is everything in Malaysia contradictory or are the investigations shoddy? Is it any wonder that we mistrust all official reports.

The crash killed Najib Abdul Razak’s confidante and close friend, the Rompin MP Jamaluddin Jarjis, his bodyguard Mohd Razkan Seran, Najib’s principal private secretary Azlin Alias, businessman Robert Tan, the pilot, Captain Clifford Fournier Jr, and Ms Aidana Baizieva.

First. An eyewitness claimed to have seen an explosion, before the chopper crashed into a rubber estate. His remarks were immediately quashed by  Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai, while  Home Minister Zahid Hamidi told the rakyat to stop speculating about the crash. Doubtless, the IGP will be watching the world of twitter, handcuffs at the ready.

Second. Who was Ms Baizieva? After much confusion, she was finally identified as a Kyrgyzstan national, but no one could say why she was on board the aircraft.

Some said she was the pilot’s friend, another, his co-pilot. Her body lay unclaimed for days. More controversy was courted when someone said that the published photo of the supposed victim was not of her, but of another woman. None of this can be verified.

Third. Data from the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) showed that the passengers were “very chatty” as the chopper, flew from Kuantan, but for several minutes leading up to the explosion, there was complete silence, with just the sound of breathing.

A source said, “But let there not be any speculation on this, as their going quiet could be due to many reasons, including fatigue”.

So, why was there a lull of several minutes when everyone clammed up?

Fourth. Data from the CVR suggested that both Fournier and Baiziera were actively operating the chopper.

DCA director-general Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said that aviation laws and regulations prohibit student pilots from acting as pilot-in-command or co-pilot, unless that person is a licence holder. He said that passengers are not allowed during training flights.

In Malaysia, the law is lax, and enforcement is poor. Handing over the control of a highly complex piece of equipment to rookies is commonplace. It happens on land, in trucks, taxis and other vehicles. People drive without permits, in uninsured vehicles, and some “datins” don’t even bother to buy a “lesen kopi-O”. They are responsible for other people’s lives, and all is fine, until an accident.

Fifth. When communications went dead, investigators suspected an explosion before the helicopter went down. The source said, “Based on investigations at the crash site, investigators concluded that some parts of the helicopter were blown off in the explosion.

“The investigations and data retrieved have not yet helped in ascertaining if it nose-dived or spiralled down”.

Sixth. Captain Lee, the pilot of a light plane, told Astro Awani that he had been exchanging flight information with Fournier. He spotted the aircraft, with the IGB logo, at 5 pm and when he looked back, three minutes later, saw smoke from the aircraft as it nose-dived to the ground.

He had not noticed the mid-air explosion, but saw black smoke before the chopper crashed.

So, did Capt Lee really see the chopper nosedive?

Seventh. A source said that the victims had injuries consistent with an air crash and there was nothing out of the ordinary, as the remains had been examined both internally and externally.

He said, “There were no foreign objects in the remains (including shrapnel from a bomb) to suggest an explosion while the helicopter was airborne. If that had been the case, findings from their examination on the remains would have been different.”

Eighth. Baizieva was reportedly taking flying lessons from Fournier. One hopes that the scene is not being set to blame human error for this disaster, as a convenient way to whitewash a more sinister reason. The woman is always a ready scapegoat, even if she is not responsible.

Ninth. Weather conditions were good, and the aircraft was in good condition. The pilot’s friends claim that Fournier was a conscientious pilot, and had been flying helicopters since 2002.

Fournier broke the law, if he allowed Baizieva, to operate the controls. Maybe, Baiziera is being set-up as a scapegoat.

Tenth. Deputy IGP Noor Rashid Ibrahim said that they had not ruled out “technical problems”, “negligence” or “sabotage”.

Malaysians hope to see more progress from the independent investigators. The rakyat have had enough of contradictory statements and analyses. After three aircraft crashes in a short space of time, let us at least get this one right. There is a first time for everything!

Mariam Mokhtar is “a Malaysian who dares to speak the truth.”

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