PILOT SURVIVES: He braves river currents to swim 4km to the shore
KUCHING: THREE people on board an executive helicopter belonging to a construction and plantations industry company were feared drowned when it went down at the river-mouth near Kampung Triso, east of here, yesterday.
The pilot, German national Rico Stegar, 35, however dramatically escaped from the wreckage and swam 4km to the shore.
Investigators said the single-engine EC120, operated by Sebiro Holdings Sdn Bhd, went down at the estuary fronting Sungai Batang Lupar and Sungai Lingga after an engine malfunction.
They said the Department of Civil Aviation control tower in Kuching received a distress call some 30 minutes after the helicopter had departed Kuching en route to Nangga Merit in Kapit at about 8.25am.
As air traffic controllers made frantic attempts to contact the pilot, Stegar braved the river currents to swim towards the fishing village of Kampung Tebelu near Sebuyau when villagers spotted him.
The villagers sent the exhausted pilot to the district clinic, then alerted the authorities.
Kampung Tebelu villagers said they saw the helicopter going into a spin before it went down.
"We found Stegar at about noon, clad only in his boxer shorts. He wept and kept telling us that he had crashed and had lost all his friends.
"He told us he encountered bad weather before he lost control of the helicopter," said village head Polly Mat, 58.
It was close to 12.30pm before the Police Air Unit was summoned but their helicopter radioed the control tower for additional support.
The air traffic control centre, jointly operated by the civilian DCA staff and the Royal Malaysian Air Force controllers, was then alerted to scramble an RMAF Sikorsky S-61 Nuri within 10 minutes.
According to the New Straits Times the search and rescue mission was aborted at dusk owing to poor visibility and bad weather.
Rescue officials failed to locate the wreckage of the helicopter which was believed to have been swept away by strong currents.
Authorities identified the missing as engineer Peter Ato anak Mayau, a company employee identified only as Hendry and company secretary Siti Kuzaina were on board the helicopter.
Peter was reportedly picked as a Parti Keadilan Rakyat candidate for the state seat of Tarat in last year's Sarawak elections.
Sebiro Holdings is linked to businessman and former Julau member of parliament S'ng Chee Hua, who also controls Croker Range Timber which is 100 per cent owned by Mandalom Sawmills, which in turn is owned by Sabah Kuwait Timber.
The late Tan Sri Megat Junid Megat Ayob, who was former deputy home minister and later domestic trade and consumer affairs minister, was at one time a director of Sebiro Holdings.
Meanwhile, Department of Civil Aviation director-general Datuk Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said a board of inquiry had been formed to investigate the incident.