A helicopter belonging to the environmental organization WildAid crashed Thursday into the Andoung Tuek river in Koh Kong province, the group said.
The pilot was flying alone in clear conditions toward 6 pm when a warning light came on, indicating that a return to base was necessary, WildAid Country Director Suwanna Gauntlett said Sunday. He began to return, but experienced a power shortage, and the helicopter dropped into the estuary of the river, she said. The pilot was not injured.
The helicopter, a Robinson R44 Raven II, had been flying since July 2005 and had passed its third routine inspection earlier in the week, Gauntlett said. The helicopter had been flown on four trips the day of the accident and the previous day with no sign of a problem, she said, adding that the pilot and the mechanics were certified by the US Federal Aviation Administration.
Police have concluded that the crash was accidental, said Tuon Pisey, deputy chief of the Koh Kong provincial police department.
Gauntlett said the helicopter was essential to the group’s monitoring of 864,000 hectares of evergreen rainforest in Koh Kong province, which she said was under threat of arson by local authorities looking to clear land for sale. “The people committing the forest crimes will be very happy if we no longer have a helicopter,” she said.
The helicopter was retrieved from the river Saturday evening and was being dismantled for inspection Sunday at Phnom Penh International Airport, said Gauntlett.
She hopes to ship the aircraft to the manufacturer in California by the end of this week after inspection by Cambodian aviation authorities. “We really don’t know what happened,” Gauntlett said.
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