THE Air Force is investigating the “emergency landing” of a Sokol W-3A multipurpose helicopter on Tuesday in Palawan, which military officials initially said was due to mechanical failure.
Col. Antonio Francisco, Air Force spokesman, said the incident is undergoing investigation as a standard operating procedure, adding that he could not comment until the probe is concluded.
Francisco did not say if all the seven other Sokol helicopters, which were acquired under the modernization program of the Armed Forces, will be grounded as part of the standard operating procedure when things like the Palawan emergency landing happen.
The Air Force said the helicopter, with tail number 926, was conducting a “probing flight” on Tuesday for the Asean Air Chief Justice Summit that will be held in Palawan, when it encountered “one engine inoperative malfunction.”
This prompted its pilot in command 1Lt. Gino Glenn Solano to perform an emergency landing at around 2:45 p.m. at Sitio Sabang, Barangay Cabayugan, Puerto Princesa City, Palawan. Sitio Sabang is is about 28 nautical miles north of downtown Puerto Princesa City.
Solano said the pilot landed the helicopter on a rice field since it was the nearest and safest area that is away from the population.
“However, the rice field’s uneven surface led the aircraft to tilt to the right as it touched down, causing damage to its main rotor blades.”
At the time of the incident, the Sokol was carrying five Air Force personnel, including the pilot and copilot and seven National Police officials.
Among the officials onboard were Chief Supt. Wilben Mayor, Mimaropa (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon, Palawan) police commander; Chief Supt. Camilo Cascolan, National Police operations directorate chief, and Chief Supt. Nestor Bergonia, chief of the force’s National Operations Center.
The Armed Forces Western Command through its spokesman, Lt. Cherry Tindog, said some of the helicopter’s passengers suffered minor injuries, although the Air Force said none was injured.
This is the second time that a Sokol helicopter figured in such incident. On August 7, 2014, just a few seconds after it lifted off from the grounds of the Army’s 103rd Infantry Brigade headquarters in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur.
The chopper was carrying the then Army Fourth Infantry “Diamond” Division Commander and now Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Ricardo Visaya; the then 4ID inspector general, Col. Alexander Macario and five staff members of former Defense Secretary Voltaire T. Gazmin.
The helicopter was escorting another Sokol that was carrying Gazmin and then-Interior Secretary Manuel A. Roxas II, who lost to President Duterte in the May 2016 elections.
The eight Sokol helicopters that were delivered from 2012 to 2013, were the first big-ticket item procured for the military by the Aquino administration.
The acquisition of the helicopters got Gazmin in trouble with then-President Benigno S. Aquino III kowing to the choppers’ entry and exit problems as their weapons, particularly machineguns have to be dismounted before passengers can board them.