Published on: Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Kota Kinabalu: Api-Api Assemblywoman Christina Liew said Sabah Air's Chief Executive Officer Manu Sasidharan not only missed the whole point in her criticism of the authorities' handling of last Thursday's Twin Otter tragedy but reveal shocking weaknesses in the State's readiness to respond in such situations.
"I was not interested in pinning blame on anybody, but was only asking why two Sabah Air helicopters were despatched to the crash site and one returned empty-handed when it could have been used to bring in the other injured victims instead of sending them by ambulance or a further two hour delay," she said, Tuesday.
"One of the helicopters left Kudat at 6.02pm without taking any other less seriously injured patient(s) if the co-pilot, Marc Joel Bansh could not be airlifted at that particular time.
"Instead, three of the patients were transferred from the Kudat District Hospital to QEH2 in two ambulances, and they reached their destination only at 10.10pm (as disclosed by the State Health Director earlier). Under the circumstances, they had to be subjected to a long journey which would not do any good," she said.
"It was in that context that I asked whether Sabah Air copters were only fit to carry vegetables and VIPs. Instead, I am accused of not knowing my facts. So what were the facts to this question?
"Not only that, he also revealed that he actually failed to get any confirmation on the crash from the relevant parties, including the Department of Civil Aviation after being tipped off anonymously at 3.10pm and decided to divert the company's Nomad aircraft to the crash site to confirm the incident 20 minutes after the tip off.
"He further said that it activated its EC145 helicopter minutes later as well as its offshore S76C helicopter despite numerous failed attempts to contact Kudat hospital.
He also said that Sabah Air finally decided to activate an Emergency Response Procedure (ERP) on its own to fetch the critically injured co-pilot Marc Joel Bansh.
"It's good that Sabah Air did it on its own initiative. Not even on the advice of the medical people and for this it deserves praise. But what about the airline and the Department of Civil Aviation. Why were they not in the picture that he had to do this on his own?"
Hence, Liew said her question to all concerned is why have the lessons of the 1995 Fokker 50 crash that claimed 34 lives in Tawau not learnt to ensure proper coordination among the various agencies when faced with such a situation.
Liew said it also took a second air tragedy almost 20 years later to expose the limitations of some Sabah Air helicopters currently contracted for medical evacuation in terms of being restricted to day-time operations.
"Even helicopters of the State Police cannot fly at night as revealed by the State Police Commissioner.
Against this scenario, it is high time for the State Government to review and take steps to remedy the situation by upgrading its aircraft-helicopter services.
"We have to be prepared always for any emergencies, be it day or night.
Do emergencies happen in the daytime only?" she said.
While recognising the efforts of medical personnel in doing their best to stabilise and save victims, Liew said this should be complemented by adequate air transport facilities to transfer them to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) on time.
Two people were killed in the Twin Otter tragedy - a peninsula visitor who died soon after the incident as well as Marc who passed away barely half an hour after the Sabah Air helicopter's mercy flight landed here, where his family members had been anxiously waiting.