Malaysia: Deputy Minister Confirmed Dead in Sarawak Helicopter Crash

Dennis Wong
160506-MY-sarawak-helicopter-620.jpg A recovery team carries the body of Noriah Kasnon, a Malaysian deputy minister, from the site of a helicopter crash near Sebuyau, Sarawak, May 6, 2016.
Courtesy of Sarawak Fire and Rescue Department

Updated at 3:35 p.m. ET on 2016-05-06

Malaysian officials Friday confirmed the death of a deputy minister, Noriah Kasnon, in a helicopter crash in the eastern state of Sarawak but rescue teams still were searching for the pilot and four other passengers.

The body of Kasnon, deputy minister of Plantation Industries and Commodities, was recovered Friday from the crash site near the coastal town of Sebuyau.

Prime Minister Najib Razak confirmed Kasnon’s death via Twitter late Friday.

Razak and his deputy Ahmad Zahid Hamidi were at the Sarawak General Hospital mortuary where Kasnon’s remains were taken after being recovered from near a debris field along the Batang Sadon River.

The AS350 helicopter went down during a flight from the Sarawakian town of Betong to the state capital of Kuching, less than two days before legislative assembly elections there.  The aircraft departed Betong at 4:12 p.m. Thursday but vanished from radar screens about 20 minutes into a 45-minute flight, officials said.

Among those still unaccounted for were Kasnon’s husband, Asmuni Abdullah, Sundaran Annamalai, the secretary general of the ministry where Kasnon serves as deputy minister, and Wan Mohammad Khair-il Anuar Wan Ahmad, an MP representing the Kuala Kangsar constituency in Perak state. The pilot, Capt. Rudolf Rex Ragas, and another passenger, bodyguard Ahmad Sobri Harun, were also missing.

The ongoing search occurred on the eve of state legislative assembly elections set for Saturday. These are being scrutinized as a test for Malaysia’s ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, which also controls politics in Sarawak but has been mired in a corruption scandal.

Wide debris field

A hearse carrying Kasnon’s body arrived at the hospital morgue from the Kuching Royal Air Force Base at 3:30 p.m. Friday.

“The team found the wreckage at 9:30 a.m. today and we began combing the area following the river currents. Based on that, our search radius is currently within four kilometers [2.5 miles] wide,” State Fire and Rescue Department Director Nor Hisham Mohammad told BenarNews.

He said a search and rescue operation comprising more than 100 personnel was scouring the area for signs of the five missing people and more debris. So far, the searchers had recovered a rotor blade from the helicopter, a floatation device, part of a wall, a door and a seat.

Difficult terrain

Transportation by helicopter is the preferred mode of transportation for politicians and other VIPs traveling in Sarawak, a heavily forested state with rugged terrain and that lacks many roads.

Apart from the option of traveling by car or truck to reach communities in mountainous or areas or in the jungle, VIPs also travel by boat through the state’s complex network of rivers.

At least seven helicopter crashes have occurred in Sarawak over the past decade. The most notorious accident took place in 2004, when seven people, including an assistant state minister, were killed when their helicopter crashed into the Bakelalan mountains.


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