Helicopter Still Missing in Burma, Rescuers Say, Denying Crash Report

By San Yamin Aung 30 September 2014

RANGOON — Rescue officials say a Thai helicopter that lost contact with ground control in the search for two mountaineers in northern Burma still has not been found, refuting some news reports that indicated the chopper had been found crashed.

China’s state-run Xinhua news agency reported on Tuesday that the missing helicopter had crashed in the northern mountains of Burma’s Kachin State. Citing “sources with the Htoo Foundation,” which is leading search efforts for the mountain climbers, the Xinhua report said authorities had received the information from villagers in Kachin State’s Naung Mon area early on Tuesday, and that the army and police personnel were attempting to access the supposed crash site.

But Phyo Ko Ko, a spokesman from the Htoo Foundation, told The Irrawaddy instead that rescue workers had received information on Monday from local authorities that a woman in Gha Htu village claimed to have witnessed a helicopter falling to the ground.

“As soon as we got that information, we deployed the search to the site where we got the information that the helicopter was falling down, but nothing has been found until now,” Phyo Ko Ko said on Tuesday.

The helicopter lost contact with ground control on Saturday, about 20 minutes after taking off from Putao airport in Kachin State. It was bringing rations to a rescue team based in Tahomdum village that is searching for two Burmese climbers who went missing on Mount Hkakabo Razi nearly a month ago.

Three people were on board the chopper, including Shwe Yin Taw Gyi, the nephew of Burmese mountaineer Namar Johnsin and personal assistant to the Htoo Foundation’s patron Tay Za, who is one of Burma’s richest businessmen. A Thai pilot, Chat Chawal, and Burmese pilot Aung Myat Toe were also on board.

Phyo Ko Ko said two helicopters and a team on the ground consisting of local residents, police officers and soldiers had been deployed in search of the missing helicopter. The team will focus its search efforts on the route between Putao and Tahomdum that the missing helicopter is thought to have taken.

“We have confidence in the pilot, since he is well-experienced in flying helicopters. He may be using caution and watching the weather conditions from a safe location. Unfortunately, the weather was not favorable, so we believe that he is waiting for the weather to improve with the others safely,” said Advance Aviation, the Thai company that contributed the missing helicopter to the search effort, as quoted in the state-run newspaper The Mirror on Tuesday.

Phyo Ko Ko said the Htoo Foundation was continuing the search for the helicopter and the two missing climbers, Aung Myint Myat and Wai Yan Min Thu, who were last heard from on Aug. 31 after becoming the first from their country to summit Hkakabo Razi, long believed to be the tallest mountain in Southeast Asia.

More members of the team, equipped with advanced technology such as remote-controlled pilotless aircraft, will arrive on Tuesday night, the foundation stated.

The rescue effort has enlisted international assistance, including a four-member rescue team from Italy that arrived to Putao on Monday, and a 15-member team from a Chinese organization called Blue Sky Rescue arrived there on Tuesday, Phyo Ko Ko said. Another two members of the Blue Sky team are due to join the effort in Putao on Wednesday, equipped with advanced technology such as remote-controlled, pilotless aircraft.

Blue Sky also sent a separate 15-member team to Mount Hkakabo Razi from the Chinese side.