By AARON RECUENCO
Police Gen. Archie Francisco Gamboa, chief of the Philippine National Police, and seven other policemen, including three generals, were injured when their helicopter crashed after hitting a power cable on takeoff in San Pedro City, Laguna yesterday morning.
Police Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, PNP deputy chief for operations, said Gamboa and five policemen sustained minor injuries and were taken to the West Lake Hospital in San Pedro City and the Unihealth South Woods Hospital and Medical Center in Binan City, Laguna.
“We are thankful that our chief PNP is okay. He was transported to a hospital here in Metro Manila,” said Eleazar. “All the other police officers are now receiving sufficient medical attention,” he added.
Eleazar identified the other police officers on board as Police Major Gen. Mariel Magaway, head of the Directorate for Intelligence; Police Major Gen. Jose Ma. Victor Ramos, head of the Directorate for Comptrollership; Police Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac, PNP spokesman, Gamboa’s aide de camp Police Capt. Kevin Gayrama, pilot Police Lt. Col. Ruel Salazar, co-pilot Police Lt. Col. Rico Macawili, and chopper crew Police Senior Master Sgt. Louie Estona.
Magaway and Ramos are in serious condition and are unconscious as of noon yesterday, Police Lt. Gen. Camilo Cascolan, PNP deputy chief for administration, said.
Cascolan said that Magaway and Ramos were taken to the Unihealth Southwoods Hospital and Medical Center in Binan City but are expected to be transferred to a hospital in Metro Manila.
Police Lt. Col. Serafin Petalio II, Laguna police chief, said Gamboa sustained an abrasion on his right shoulder as a result of the crash. “He is okay, he was conscious, and he only suffered abrasion on the shoulder due to the impact of the crash,” said Petalio.
Police Capt. Rannie Estilles of the PNP Highway Patrol Group who was among the first in the scene said Gamboa was the first to be pulled out by responding policemen and medical personnel when the chopper touched the ground.
Gamboa was seated at the right side of the chopper and was conscious when he was rescued.
Gamboa had earlier led the inspection of confiscated vehicles at the Laperal Compound in San Pedro. The Laperal Compound is the designated impounding area of the HPG for vehicles confiscated in various police operations.
He had earlier warned policemen not to use vehicles confiscated in various police operations amid the intelligence reports he received that some erring cops have been using seized vehicles as their own. Some confiscated vehicles in Camp Crame in Quezon City have been transferred to Laperal Compound.
BEFORE THE CRASH
Gamboa was on his way to a command visit in Camp Vicente Lim also in Laguna where he was supposed to hold a command conference with top officers of the PNP PRO 4-A (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, and Quezon) when his helicopter crashed.
Police Lt. Col. Alejandro Espiritu, director of the HPG PRO 4, said that the helicopter had just taken off past 8 a.m. when they noticed that the pilots appeared to have difficulty maneuvering.
“During the takeoff, the area was covered with thick dust,” Espiritu said, adding that the thick dust was generated by the gust of wind from the takeoff. Espiritu said the next thing they saw was the chopper going down.
The aircraft whipped up a thick cloud of dust as it took off, hit a power cable, then crashed with a loud thud on a road near houses, a witness said.
Eleazar said that the thick dust and debris as a result of the takeoff may have affected the visibility of the pilots.
“This probably resulted in some miscalculations which led the helicopter hitting a wire,” said Eleazar, quoting accounts relayed to him by some police officers in the area.
Eleazar said some witnesses said that it was fortunate that the chopper was not on cruising altitude when it crashed. Otherwise, he said, it would have been a different outcome.