ON July 12, a Bell 206 helicopter crashed in northern Sarawak after taking off from Miri airport. All six aboard were killed, including State Assistant Minister Dr Judson Sakai Tagal.
Then on Aug 15, a Nuri helicopter with army personnel heading for Be’kalalan crashed. Three of the 10 on board perished.
Now another Bell 206 belonging to Hornbill Skyways has crashed after taking off from Kuching, killing all four on board. To say that the situation is untenable approaches something of an understatement.
Three such crashes are three crashes too many. That they have happened within the space of two months makes it all the more alarming.
The Transport Ministry has moved quickly to direct the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) to ground all helicopters operated by Hornbill Skyways Sdn Bhd. Whatever the outcome of an investigation, this grounding is the least that should be done with immediate effect.
An inquiry may reveal that the crashes were due to human error or a mechanical fault, or both. Regardless of cause, the human dimension is central since this also covers proper maintenance, servicing and repairs.
A competent inquiry would need to be far-reaching and probing. It would be expected to examine, among other things, the standard of routine maintenance as well as the level of supervision and management of flight and repair crews.
Nothing less than a fully comprehensive inquiry is required.
The deaths of all the victims so far must not be in vain, regrettable as they still are and costly as it may be to ensure safer helicopter transport.
The inquiry must be true to its purpose and ensure that all likely causes of the crashes be known.
Whoever or whatever is implicated in the inquiry should be established as such. There should be no fudging or cover-ups, if the DCA, the state government and the Transport Ministry are serious about getting to the truth of the matter.
The point is simply to prevent all such crashes in future, taking every necessary measure to do so.
Each of these incidents is a grotesque waste of life, machinery, reputation and all else that matters.
The investigations that are to come must also identify clearly all that needs to be done from now to ensure safer helicopter transport.
It may well be necessary to overhaul the mentality of flight providers along with their equipment and work schedules.
Those who make it their business to provide helicopter transport must remember that accidents do not simply happen. They are caused; and whatever the cause in each case, the responsibility rests squarely with the flight providers themselves.
This does not mean that air transport is perfectly safe and devoid of risks. But it does mean that avoidable accidents are inexcusable.