It has taken more than three years, but the Public Ministry has finally accused pilot João Leitão of dropping five young GNR GIPS (special forces) into a raging inferno and leaving them to burn.
Three of the men suffered the most terrible injuries, requiring weeks and months in hospital and repeated surgeries.
The worst injured, João Carraça, has been left with 77% incapacity, and is “seriously and permanently disfigured”; colleague Carlos Fernandes has been left unable to perform simple everyday tasks.
Perhaps the ‘lightest injured’, João (André) Ferreira, has still had to suffer extensive and painful scarring – and these are just the physical consequences. Mentally, families and loved ones will tell you, there is intense suffering that has changed these men forever.
This was an horrendous story, from the very beginning (click here).
At the time, Leitão’s boss, Pedro Silveira of Heliportugal said his pilot “didn’t put a gun to the men’s heads” and tell them to get out of the helicopter when they did.
If Leitão hadn’t taken off “there could have been more injuries”, Silveira told TSF radio.
But GIPS operative himself and vice-president of ASPIG, the association of independent professional police, Adolfo Clérigo did not accept this explanation.
He told as many news sources as were prepared to listen that in his opinion the injured men were “dropped and abandoned…they literally had to run while they could because they were left on their own…”
João Leitão is not the only person facing charges. Agricultural worker José Fontes is also in the Public Ministry’s sights for negligently causing the fire that consumed over 65 hectares in Mourão, in the Alentejo, in August 2018.
Says Correio da Manhã – which has scheduled a special programme on this incident for tonight – the Public Ministry expects both men to indemnify the State with damages of just over €776,000. This money will go towards reimbursing the State for the health care of the injured men, while privately at least one lawyer – representing João Carraça – is requesting damages from all parties, including Heliportugal and AXA insurance company.
CM cites that the accusation drawn up by the Public Ministry “affirms: The lesions that João Ferreira, João Carraça and Carlos Fernandes suffered, and the consequences that remain with them, are due to the conduct of the defendant João Leitão, who was in a privileged situation, within the aircraft and in the air, and could see the flames progressing with intensity to the site where the GNR agents were, yet even so did not advise them of the force and proximity of those flames, nor make them return to the aircraft”.
As the paper explains, while he was piloting the helicopter, João Leitão was responsible for the safety of the operation, and the safety of his passengers: “The Public Ministry highlights that João Leitão knew the agents were there in the exercise of functions of public interest”.
João Leitão and agricultural worker José Fontes may challenge the Public Ministry’s position, adds CM.
For now, this is another step on the long and arduous road for justice for three young men whose lives will never be the same again (click here).