The National Helicopter Services Limited (NHSL) is now investigating what caused a multi-million dollar helicopter that was part of a joint law enforcement search for eight prisoners to crash shortly after one yesterday.
In a release yesterday, NHSL confirmed the incident at Windy Hill, Arouca, which all three occupants of the aircraft luckily escaped unhurt. The accident is also engaging the attention of the Trinidad and Tobago Civil Aviation Authority, Guardian Media was told.
The pilot, prisons officer and police officer on board were all shaken “but in one piece,” Prison Commissioner Gerard Wilson, who arrived minutes after the crash, confirmed to Guardian Media.
“Well, I called him, he told me they were doing surveillance and he doesn’t know if the helicopter was too low, but it started to spin, it got a tailspin and he said that he felt when it hit the ground that was it for him,” Wilson said.
The mangled wreckage of the NHSL helicopter stood in a barren clearing mere feet away from a small river about a quarter mile off the Arima Old Road in the Windy Hill, Arouca area after the pilot managed to land it safely enough to avoid injuries to himself and his passengers.
The rotor blades were bent and limp and several pieces of the blades were strewn around the crash site, which was heavily guarded by soldiers of the Trinidad and Tobago Regiment and police officers.
The manhunt for the eight prisoners, all considered armed and dangerous, had begun shortly after seven yesterday, after the men were discovered missing from their cell in the upper South wing of the institution.
A joint team of police, prisons and army officers later started searching the Bon Air and Windy Hill areas for several hours and set up strategic roadblocks as they received reported sightings of the men. Police recovered a pair of boots and an orange vest near a river close to the Priority Bus Route in the Bon Air area.
The names of the escaped men were Olatunji Denbow, Brent Johnson, Mikhale Mohammed, Joshua Janet, Kerry Valentino, Steffon Austin, Michael Findley - all on remand for murder - and Atiba Sealey, who was incarcerated on an aggravated robbery charge.
Wilson gave details of how the escape of the men went down after visiting Cell 6 in the upper south wing of the Golden Grove Remand Yard.
“When I looked in I asked about the hole, they showed me to the top left-hand corner there was a hole, not more than 12 inches in diameter, probably a square. They took out a brick and cut two bars and without getting the facts and the preliminary report, I would assume a hacksaw blade was used,” Wilson said.
Wilson said once the men went through that opening they would have jumped over the first perimeter fence and then the Golden Grove prison fence, which he said was “not that high” and then onto Waterloo Road on the eastern side of the prison compound.
Following the latest jailbreak, Wilson told Guardian Media that they were working feverishly with the Ministry of National Security reinforce security measures at Remand Yard.
“We were starting to move inmates out in order to the northern wing and put toilets in cells. So I don’t know if they took the opportunity because they felt that they were being moved eventually, to make their escape from the institution.”
He said he had been in contact with Minister of National Security Stuart Young, who was out of the country, about the escape and also apprised him about the helicopter involved in the crash.
Law enforcement officers did not relent in their search for the escapees, finally catching up with at least five of the men by last evening.