An investigation has been launched following the serious injuries of least three GIPS special force agents moments after they were left by a helicopter in the middle of a raging wildfire on Monday.
According to reports, a “downwash” – change of direction in the wind, “provoked by the blades of the helicopter in the moment it took off – caused flames to bear down on the group of men, injuring three seriously and two who escaped with lighter injuries.
In his report on the incident in Mourão (Alentejo) the pilot working for private company Heliportugal is described as “guaranteeing that he alerted the agents to the advance of the fire but that these decided to continue their combat” nonetheless.
Heliportugal’s boss Pedro Silveira has stressed his pilot’s long and distinguished record, adding that the professional flyer “didn’t put a gun to the men’s heads” and tell them to get out when they did.
Indeed, Silveira has told TSF radio that if the pilot hadn’t taken off, “there could have been more injuries”.
But this is all being taken with more than a pinch of salt by fellow GIPS operative and vice-president of ASPIG, the association of independent professional police Adolfo Clérigo.
Clérigo says he simply cannot understand what happened, as GIPS special forces “train to the point of exhaustion for these situations” and would not voluntarily put themselves in such danger.
Clérigo has told as many news sources as are prepared to listen that in his opinion the injured men were “dropped and abandoned in the middle of the fire”.
“They literally had to run while they could because their were left on their own”.
Clérigo has told TSF that local people and GNR police close to the operation in Mourão all stress that the helicopter pilot has to explain “very well” what led him to leave the men on their own “because he left them at the head of the fire, going against all the practices” for these case scenarios.
“What happened in Mourão has to be explained by the pilot as the decision on the place to leave the group is his”, Clérigo is quoted as having told tabloid Correio da Manhã.
While the men are still being treated in hospital, surprisingly little is being reported about their conditions.
President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa is said to be “permanently accompanying the situation” and has reportedly already spoken to the wives of two of the injured men.
Meantime, the mother of one – whose address is given over social media as Faro – has explained that but for the help of someone at the scene, the men could all have died.
“There are no words for what happened”, writes Célia Bernardo under the TSF text online. “We all know the truth and we are not going to keep quiet about it as it mustn’t be allowed to happen to other people’s children”.
Célia Bernardo writes that the injured men are being treated in Lisbon, Coimbra and Porto – and in the case of her son André Ferreira recovery will take “months”.
Célia has given us her son’s version of this drama. Had a farmer fleeing the fire not doubled back in his truck after he heard the men screaming for help, they would without doubt have died, she said. “No one was there for them. It is a complete disgrace”.
Photo: www.facebook.com/GuardaNacionalRepublicana (João Porfírio)