Deputy minister among VIPs aboard helicopter missing in Malaysia

Plantation Industries and Commodities Deputy Minister Datuk Noriah Kasnon is one of the six individuals believed to be on a helicopter which has gone missing in Sarawak.
Plantation Industries and Commodities Deputy Minister Datuk Noriah Kasnon is one of the six individuals believed to be on a helicopter which has gone missing in Sarawak.PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

KUALA LUMPUR  - In the midst of a heated political campaign trail in Sarawak, a helicopter ferrying Malaysian VIPs from the commodities ministry disappeared in the Borneo state this evening.

The helicopter, with six people on board, including Plantation Industries and Commodities Deputy Minister Noriah Kasnon, went missing around 5pm on its way to Kuching from Betong, a small town east of the state.

According to reports, air traffic controllers lost contact with the helicopter while it was near Sebuyau.

A search and rescue operation has been deployed.

The helicopter has so far not been found.

In a press conference before midnight, authorities said they had not received any distress call

A police team deployed to the area combed the place three times but saw no signs of the helicopter, reporters were told.

Besides Ms Noriah, who is is also Sungai Besar MP, the others on board were her husband, Asmuni Abdullah, the ministry’s secretary-general, Dr Sundaran Annamalai, Kuala Kangsar MP and Malaysian Palm Oil Board member Wan Mohammad Khairil Anuar Wan Ahmad, personal bodyguard Ahmad Sobri Harun and pilot Rudolf Rex Ragas.

Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said on Twitter that he has ordered the Air Force and the army to work together in the search and rescue operation.

Deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi said a special task force comprising the police, Fire and Rescue Department and defence forces has been formed to investigate the incident.

Authorities are expected to continue their search during Friday daytime.

The incident occurred just days before Sarawak polls this Saturday (May 7), with the country’s ministers in the state campaigning full force.

Prime Minister Najib Razak took to Twitter to remark on the missing helicopter.

“Deeply concerned about reports of helicopter missing between Betong and Kuching… Let us pray for their safety.”

The New Straits Times said Datuk Seri Najib would hold a press conference at Kuching International Airport on Friday (May 6) at 9.30am after cancelling a planned Lundu visit.

ltrinna@sph.com.sg