Black Hawk down en route to crash site, says 1st Army

The 1st Army has confirmed that a military Black Hawk helicopter crashed yesterday morning during an operation to retrieve the bodies of the five victims of Saturday’s helicopter crash near the Thai-Burmese border.

However, it was still unable to confirm whether the nine people on board the Black Hawk, including Maj Gen Tawan Ruangsri, commander of the Surasi Task Force were dead. But it conceded the chances of them surviving the accident were slim.

First Army commander Udomdet Seetabut also ruled out the possibility of the Black Hawk being shot down by Burmese soldiers, saying the most likely cause of the crash was strong and unexpected winds in the valley.

It was confirmed last night the Black Hawk had crashed on Burmese soil two kilometres from the Thai border.

The other eight people on board the helicopter were Maj Praphan Chiamsungnoen, the first pilot; Maj Chuphan Phonwan, the second pilot; Sgt Maj (SM 1) Somkid Wongtoksaeng, a flight mechanic; Sgt Aram Wongsing, another flight mechanic; Capt Chet Sukchai, commander of the 9th Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol Company; Capt Chakkraphan Bamrungphuet, a weapons officer; Pvt 1st Class Itthisak Hinasut, who is with the the 9th Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol Company; and Sornwichai Khatannukul, a cameraman with the TV Channel 5 army station.

Soldiers preparing to transport the five soldiers’ corpses from a temporary helicopter landing ground heard a loud explosion shortly after they saw the Black Hawk plummet from the sky.

The location was in Ban Khao Daeng in tambon Huay Mae Phiang in Kang Krachan district of Phetchaburi.

The helicopter landing ground is on a mountain about 1km from the border.

The 1st Army has also sought cooperation from Burmese troops to assist in locating the wreckage and the nine people on board.

Lt Gen Udomdet insisted that the UH-60 Black Hawk that crashed was a new aircraft and despite its high performance extreme winds could still have brought it down.

Maj Gen Tawan was quoted as making a grim joke with a group of members of the press who wanted to travel with him on the helicopter to cover the corpse retrieval operation.

“You cannot come with us otherwise we will all die if this helicopter crashes,” he said.

About half an hour after taking off at about 11am yesterday, the pilots of the helicopter lost contact with their fellow soldiers waiting at the temporary helicopter landing ground.

The five soldiers’ bodies from Saturday’s crash remain on Tanaosi mountain in Kaeng Krachan National Park in Phetchaburi after being recovered from the crash site and carried about a kilometre to the Ton Nam Petch forestry base.

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