Two Days On, Thai Rescue Helicopter Still Missing in Burma

By San Yamin Aung 29 September 2014

RANGOON— The Thai rescue helicopter that went missing over the weekend during a search for mountain climbers in northern Burma has still not been found, rescue officials say.

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 rescuers based in Tahomdum village who are searching for two Burmese climbers on Hkakabo Razi mountain.

Three people were on board the chopper, including Shwe Yin Taw Gyi, the nephew of skilled Burmese mountaineer Namar Johnsin and personal assistant to the foundation’s patron Tay Za, who is one of the country’s richest businessmen.

Also on board were Thai pilot Chat Chawal and Burmese pilot Aung Myat Toe.

The Htoo Foundation, which has led search efforts for the mountain climbers over the past four weeks, said additional manpower and rations were being allocated to find the helicopter.

“We are continuing the search and rescue mission for the two climbers, and on the other hand we are adding force to search for the helicopter that lost contact,” Phyo Ko Ko, a spokesman for the foundation, told The Irrawaddy on Monday.

He said a B-3 helicopter from the foundation and a MI-17 helicopter from the Burmese military had been deployed for the search, which was being aided on the ground by residents, police officers and soldiers from 11 villages between Putao and Tahomdum. Chinese rescue team Blue Sky has also joined the effort, along with American mountaineers and a rescue team from Nepal.

The two Burmese climbers 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.

Aung Myint Myat and Wai Yan Min Thu had set out with six other climbers on July 31 but were the only two in the group who continued to the top because the final stretch was too narrow.

At the summit, the two men sent their GPS location in a message to the others, adding that their battery was weak. They were supposed to meet everyone back at base camp on Sept. 9 but never showed up. Rescuers began carrying out aerial searches on Sept. 10, and last week they found a backpack and two bags at a camp along the route that the climbers had scaled.

“Although the foundation set September 27 as the target date to find the two climbers, they are continuing the search effort,” said Kyaw Naing, a member of the Thabawa Khawthan Association (Natural Call), which organized the climbing expedition.

“It is more difficult for the rescue team because they are now searching for the climbers and the helicopter at the same time,” he added.

Hkakabo Razi was long considered to be the tallest mountain in Southeast Asia. Recently, however, there has been some debate after satellite and digital data revealed that Gamlang Razi mountain, also in Kachin State, may be taller.