THE SEARCH for a missing helicopter ended yesterday when officials found debris from the downed aircraft and the five bodies of its crew and a passenger in a dense forest near Doi Inthanon in Chiang Mai province yesterday.
The helicopter crashed on Sunday while flying back from a flood relief mission in Mae Hong Son province.
Maj-General Kosol Prathum-chat, commander of the 33rd Army Circle, said a rescue team from the 7th Infantry Division confirmed that they had found the missing chopper and its four crewmembers and a passenger.
The tail of the helicopter was found on a plateau but the main compartment plunged into a 500-metre ravine.
Rescuers abseiled down between two narrow cliffs to the crash site, finding the body of Maj-General Nopporn Ruanchan, commander of the 4th Infantry Division, still in the helicopter. The four other bodies were found 100 to 200 metres from the site.
Officials said there did not appear to have been an explosion onboard the helicopter, and they suspected strong winds blew the helicopter into trees in bad weather and low visibility conditions. Nearby trees showed damage inflicted by the crash.
Kosol instructed rescuers to leave the bodies alone until he arrived at the scene to begin the process of identification, which would be completed today at Kavila Fort, and they were ordered not to take photos.
Kosol said six rescue teams had been dispatched from the 7th Infantry Division to search for the missing helicopter, which disappeared off the radar while heading to the Northern province of Phitsanulok.
Rescuers found pieces of broken helicopter blades and documents one kilometre from an area where Doi Inthanon National Park officials said they had detected the odour of petrol. A signal from Nopporn’s mobile phone was detected in the same area.
Thai Royal Army spokesman Colonel Winthai Suvari said Army chief General Theerachai Nakvanich had expressed his sadness for the loss of Nopporn and the four crewmen who had honourably been carrying out their duties.
He said the Army would provide support to the families of the five and expressed heartfelt condolences.
He said funerals would be conducted with full honours.
Army deputy spokesman Colonel Sirichan Ngathong said the families of the five would receive between Bt2 million and Bt5 million depending on rank and level of allowances.
The five victims will be posthumously |promoted.
Aside from Nopporn, they were: Captain Suthan Ongmuang, First Lieutenant Nawapat Maneechot, Sergeant Major 1st Class Chaisakda Taso and Sergeant Major 3rd Class Mongkolchai Roongan.