A Guyanese military helicopter taking senior officers on an inspection tour of troops guarding border areas claimed by neighboring Venezuela disappeared after lunch on Wednesday but the leadership says there are no indications that it might have been hit by hostile fire from across the border line.
Army Chief Brig. Gen. Omar Khan told reporters late Wednesday that the Guyana Defense Force had lost contact with the aircraft after it had taken off from Olive Creek settlement in western Guyana following a refueling stop. The brand new Bell-412 EPI had five officers and two crew members on board when it lost contact with base command in the city, Khan said.
The aircraft’s disappearance about 30 miles east of the Venezuelan border has come in the midst of a simmering row and high tensions between the Caribbean Community nation and Venezuela over border lines as Venezuela, has for decades, claimed the entire western Essequibo region as its own. Guyana has maintained that an 1899 settlement involving an international border commission has long settled the lines as full and perfect. Guyana has taken the case to the World Court in The Netherlands for final settlement. Venezuela has refused to recognize the court and on Tuesday said it had advanced plans to annex the entire area and issue identification cards to locals living there following a referendum on Sunday that gave authorities the mandate to do so.
Venezuelan troops with heavy equipment and machinery have been massing on the border in recent weeks, leading to speculation of an imminent invasion.
Asked if the aircraft was shot out of the sky as it flew in the heavily forested and mountainous area, Khan said “we have no information to suggest that. We do not have any information suggesting that there was any flight by Venezuelan aircraft in that area,” looking somber and speaking slowly. “Speculation is not what I want to go into. Our priority is to save the lives of our officers and ranks.”
He said the US will assist in the search when it resumes on Thursday as the weather should be better. The initial rescue team was joined by one of the marine helicopters, which operate flights to offshore oil rigs daily. Private aircraft are also in the search party.