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Scene of the Puebla helicopter crash. Scene of the Puebla helicopter crash.

Transport officials reverse decision to embargo crashed chopper’s audio tapes

The tapes were going to be put away for five years until the president called for transparency

Transportation authorities have backed down on a plan to place a five-year embargo on the release of radio communication between the helicopter in which the governor of Puebla and her husband were killed and the control tower at Puebla International Airport.

Martha Erika Alonso, who was sworn in as governor on December 14, former Puebla governor and Senator Rafael Moreno Valle, two pilots and a political aide all died after the Agusta helicopter in which they were traveling plunged to the ground just outside the city of Puebla on Christmas Eve.

The Civil Aviation Agency (DGAC) confirmed that there is an audio recording between one of the pilots on board the helicopter – which had no black box – and the airport control tower, and that it forms part of the investigation into the December 24 crash.

However, the agency, a division of the Secretariat of Communications and Transportation (SCT), said that releasing the recording was not in the public interest, would have a negative impact on aviation and national security and could place future international cooperation on aviation accident investigations at risk.

It issued the statement in response to a freedom-of-information request by the newspaper Milenio.

The embargo would have prevented the recording from being made public until the final year of the six-year administration of the federal government, which will end in 2024.

The DGAC also refused to tell Milenio at what time the final communication took place between the helicopter and the airport control tower, information that could reveal whether the emergency situation faced by the aircraft was sudden or whether it developed over a longer period of time.

If the emergency wasn’t sudden, the pilot should have made a mayday call, which would be included in the classified recording along with other information such as the verbal permission for the helicopter to take off and the altitude it reached before it began to plummet to the ground in an unusual almost vertical descent.

However, such details may soon become public after President López Obrador, responding this morning to news of the five-year embargo, said he will ask Communications and Transportation Secretary Javier Jiménez Espriú to review the decision.

“My recommendation is that there be complete transparency. I’m going to ask the secretary to review the matter. Perhaps it [the reservation of information] was done because of a regulation but transparency is more important so that there is no motive for suspicion,” he said.

Later this morning, the transportation secretary said the embargo was issued due to “confusion,” admitted it was an error and promised there would be more information on Thursday.

Jiménez also said such an embargo was normal, although none was issued after aircraft accidents killed politicians in 2008 and 2011.

There were two accidents in which two interior secretaries were killed when former president Felipe Calderón was in office between 2006 and 2012.

Juan Camilo Mouriño and seven others on board a government Learjet 45 were killed when it crashed on the Paseo de la Reforma boulevard in Mexico City in 2008. In 2011, Francisco Blake Mora and seven others died in a helicopter accident in México state.

The SCT publicly released transcripts of radio communication just five days after the 2008 incident and 10 days after the 2011 crash.

In both cases, the Calderón government disclosed the information even though United States authorities were cooperating with their Mexican counterparts on the investigations.

This week, the national president of the political party to which Alonso and Moreno belonged claimed that the crash was no accident.

The National Action Party’s Marko Cortés said there has been a “suspicious silence” from the federal government about the crash, leading him to believe that it was caused deliberately.

Source: Milenio (sp), El Financiero (sp) 

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