Copter crash: Tragedy strikes fear among campaigners

Land transport vehicles plying rural northern Sarawak en masse as campaign draws to a close.

MIRI: The helicopter tragedy in Betong has struck fear among political campaigners in the remote constituencies, some of whom have resorted to using land transport to travel vast distances.  

This is despite the fact that flying takes a shorter time as a mode of transport.  

The Star was told Friday that politicians in the mountainous interior and deep jungles of northern Sarawak had suddenly taken on a more cautious approach since the crash. 

"The last day of campaign would have seen even more aggressive use of helicopters for last minute push in the interior," said a ground campaigner helping out the Barisan Nasional machinery.  

"However, flight activities by politicians have slowed down considerably except for the Election Commission workers and police who are manning the interior polling districts. 

"Yesterday (Thursday), there was another helicopter scare in the interior of northern Sarawak when a helicopter with a group of campaigners experienced problems with the rotor blades. 

"Luckily, the copter was not high off the ground and it still managed to land," he said.  

There were numerous helicopter crashes in the past decade in northern Sarawak.

There were three crashes involving the Bell helicopters, two on Nuri and two involving offshore oil rig workers.

The most prominent incident was in July 12, 2004, where seven people including assistant state minister Dr Judson Tagal were killed when the Bell 206 helicopter they were in crashed into the Bakelalan mountains.

Datuk Nelson Balang Rining was the press secretary to Dr Judson at that time. Balang was travelling on another helicopter at the time of incident.  

The two groups were travelling through the Bakelalan Bario mountain range when Dr Judson and his group went missing.  

Balang, who is now SPDP divisional chairman of Bakelalan, is currently helping the Barisan campaign.  

Last week, he told The Star that he preferred to use land for travel but sometimes had to use the helicopter if he needs to move in and out of the highlands swiftly.

It is believed that Deputy Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Noriah Kasnon and her husband Asmuni Abdullah were on the helicopter which went missing en route from Betong to Kuching on Thursday.  

The four other individuals on board were the ministry’s secretary-general Datuk Dr Sundaran Annamalai, Kuala Kangsar MP and Malaysian Palm Oil Board chairman Datuk Wan Mohammad Khair-il Anuar Wan Ahmad and personal bodyguard Ahmad Sobri Harun, as well as the pilot, Captain Rudolf Rex Ragas.  

Noriah is also Sungai Besar MP.  

Air traffic controllers lost contact with the helicopter at 4.32pm after taking off from Betong at 4.12pm.

Debris from the crash was found near Batang Lupar at 9.50am Friday.

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Betong , helicopter crash , Sarawak


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