Senators seek stop to ‘senseless deaths’ of men in uniform in chopper crashes
MANILA, Philippines—At least three senators renewed a push for a military upgrade program following the crash of a Philippine Air Force (PAF) UH-1H Huey helicopter that killed 7 PAF and Army men to end what one senator said was the “senseless deaths” of men in uniform.
In a privilege speech on Tuesday (Jan. 19), Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri said the use of Vietnam War vintage Huey helicopters, the PAF’s main workhorse, should be “thoroughly reviewed.”
“While I do not doubt that the chopper was well-maintained, the use of Huey helicopters by our military should be thoroughly reviewed,” he said.
“What happened in Bukidnon recently, and all the other military aircraft crashes which resulted in deaths of our military and civilian personnel, were senseless deaths,” said Zubiri, a native of Bukidnon. “Avoidable accidents, if only we were serious in modernizing our military,” he continued.
The Huey UH-1H with tail number 517, was on its third resupply mission run for the day on Jan. 16, when it nosedived at the village of Bulonay in Impasugong town, Bukidnon province.
All those onboard—four Air Force men and three Army soldiers—were killed.
The crash was the fourth involving a PAF helicopter since July 2020. In July, four Air Force men were killed after a Huey helicopter crashed in Cauayan City, Isabela province.
In September, four military men were killed after a Sikorsky S-76A helicopter crashed near Lantawan town, Basilan province due to bad weather. In November, a Huey helicopter made an emergency landing in Madalum town, Lanao del Sur province killing a passenger and injuring crewmen.
Results of the accidents’ investigation have not been released to the public.
Zubiri, however, said the choppers were “already very old, quite rundown.” “Even if they were well-maintained,” the senator said, “the airframe of these machines have been put to such strain because of their age.”
“The accident reminded me of what the media used to call our military aircraft in the 80s and 90s,” Zubiri said in his speech. “They used to call them ‘flying coffins,’ even to a certain extent calling them ‘widow makers.’ What a sad label, but it’s actually true,” he said.
The Air Force has newer choppers, like Bell 412 and Black Hawk helicopters, but the Hueys are still being relied on for transport and humanitarian operations.
“There’s a bigger issue here, and it’s not just the accident,” said Sen. Richard Gordon in a manifestation of support for Zubiri’s speech. “Again, I commiserate with the pilots and crew in this latest Huey crash, but I commiserate even more for the fact that we allowed them with meager assets,” Gordon said.
“It’s embarrassing to our soldiers who report for work and dream of serving our country but who are not getting the right equipment,” Gordon added.
Zubiri said the Hueys should be in museums rather than in the air. “Maybe we can buy them fairly new helicopters,” he said of the PAF.
Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa supported the need to constantly fund the AFP’s upgrade program.
“A well-funded AFP modernization program will ensure the safety of our soldiers whose lives are put at stake in order to serve our countrymen,” he said.
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