Semenyih helicopter tragedy: No distress call; aircraft certified airworthy

PUTRAJAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The pilot of the helicopter that crashed in Semenyih did not make any distress call and the aircraft was certified as airworthy.

Transport Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai said a five-member team headed by Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) flight operations director Yahya Abdul Rahman had been set up to probe the cause of the crash and a French expert would assist it.

Liow said the Eurocopter AS365 (9M-IGB) Dauphin 2 helicopter had a valid certificate of airworthiness, which was renewed on Feb 14 and valid until Feb 8, 2016.

"It had a clean bill of health," he told reporters at his ministry.

He said checks found no red flags about the safety of the 25-year old aircraft manufactured in 1990 by Airbus Helicopters, formerly known as Eurocopter France.

"As for the pilot, Clifford William Fournier Jr, he held a valid licence for this type of aircraft since 2012. He had been flying since 2002.

"The pilot stuck to the approved flight path throughout the journey, from Kuantan to Rompin, to Kajang and then to its intended destination to Subang.

"So we hope people do not speculate on what happened and wait until all facts come to light."

Liow said at no point during the flight did Fournier issue a distress call, adding that unlike aeroplane pilots, helicopters did not need to be in constant communication with air traffic controllers, unless in the event of an emergency.

He declined to speak on the areas of investigation by DCA, saying that the ministry would not speculate until the information from the black box was extracted and analysed.

Yahya told reporters that the DCA had also conducted air patrols to get better views of the crash site from above.

"We are trying to find other pieces that might have fallen further from the primary site. We are also investigating the route the aircraft had taken," he said.

Dismissing speculation that the helicopter had crashed into high voltage electrical wires as it was flying at 1,500ft, he said it was still premature to determine the cause of the crash.

The helicopter carrying Umno lawmaker Jamaluddin Jarjis, a political ally of Prime Minister Najib Razak and five others - Mr Azlin Alias, the principal private secretary to the Prime Minister, Fournier, his company assistant Aidana Baizieva, businessman Datuk Robert Tan and Jamaluddin's bodyguard Mohd Razkan Seran, 32 - crashed in Semenyih, just minutes away from its destination on Saturday.

There have been conflicting reports about weather conditions and how the crash occurred.

Eyewitnesses had said the helicopter exploded in midair during heavy rain before crashing.

However, a pilot of a light plane, identified only as Capt Lee, gave Astro Awani a different account of how it happened.

He said he had been in contact with Capt Fournier and had exchanged information about approaching Kajang.

Lee, who was flying from Johor to Subang, said he saw the aircraft with the IGB logo at about 5pm.

He said three minutes later, he looked back and saw smoke coming out of the aircraft as it nose-dived to the ground.

He said there was no midair explosion but he saw it crash and black smoke billowed from the site.

Lee also said that the weather was fair with some rain but there was no storm.

"In my experience, the crash was not due to the weather. I saw it happen. It was horrible. After the incident, I contacted the control tower and continued my journey as I was ferrying passengers," Lee was quoted as saying by the television station.

Selangor police chief Senior Deputy Comm Datuk Abdul Samah Mat said there was also another helicopter flying near the AS365 Dauphin 2 when it crashed.

He said the pilot of the aircraft, which was flying from Johor Baru to Gombak, reported the crash to Subang Air Traffic Control.

"We have identified the pilot and we have asked him to give a statement on what he saw," he said.

He hoped the testimony from that pilot would shed more light on the tragedy.