The Malaysian government’s decision to ground a fleet of helicopters belonging
to state-owned operator Hornbill Skyways has disrupted life in Sarawak, Borneo. The Malaysian government issued the order at the beginning of last month, after Sarawak’s second helicopter accident in two months claimed the lives of four people on board a Hornbill Bell 206 JetRanger.
Without the helicopters, Sarawak’s flying doctor service to more than 100,000 people in remote areas will have to be suspended.
The state education department has also felt the effects of the grounding; it cannot send primary school assessment papers to outlying areas that are inaccessible by road or river. The grounding will also affect the upcoming election, as the government uses helicopters to reach the constituency.
Engine failure was the probable cause of the latest crash, according to initial investigations by the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA). “The pilot made a mayday call seconds before the helicopter crashed,” according to DCA spokesman Yahaya Abdul Rahman. “We believe there was a sudden loss of power, indicating that it had something to do with the engine.”
DCA has since been instructed to audit the operations and management of all helicopter companies in the country. Transport Minister Datuk Seri Chan Kong Choy wants to ensure that all DCA procedures comply fully with international standards. At present, there are about 60 helicopters in the country, he said, with half of them operating in Sabah and Sarawak.
Chan said the DCA would carry out the audit once it had completed due diligence checks on the operations of Hornbill Skyways. He expected a report by the end of last month.
The first Hornbill LongRanger accident occurred in a remote jungle area of Sarawak in July, when seven people were killed. It took rescue teams more than two weeks to locate the victims. A Royal Malaysian Air Force Nuri (Sikorsky S-61A) also crashed in the Borneo province in August, killing three people.