Newspaper Público, citing the initial report from the investigation ordered by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MAI), reported on Tuesday (18 December) that contact between national air traffic controllers NAV Portugal, the Northern 112 emergency call response and rescue central CONOR, and the Portuguese Air Force Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC), to flag a possible accident with an aircraft, “was not carried out with the necessary timing”, which may have compromised the search and rescue response.
The report also concluded that the weather conditions in the late afternoon of 15 December and the “hilly” terrain were factors that conditioned “the development of the search from the arrival of the first means to the theatre of operations”.
Following the accident, newspaper Correio da Manhã ran a piece which claimed air navigation management entity NAV “guaranteed that the Civil Protection of Porto, Braga and Vila Real did not answer the emergency calls”.
However, the Secretary of State for Civil Protection, Artur Neves, told radio station Renascença on Monday that it is “impossible” that CDOS (emergency) calls go unanswered.
Four people - the pilot, co-pilot, a doctor and a nurse– were killed when the INEM chopper went down in Valongo, near Porto, in poor weather on the night of Saturday, 15 December.
The helicopter was returning to Macedo de Cavaleiros from a patient transport mission, having delivered a patient to Santo António hospital in Porto. It left the hospital at around 6.35pm to return to its base near the Spanish border, telling NAV air control it would be stopping en-route, in Baltar, to refuel.
Onboard was Spanish doctor Luís Vega, INEM Nurse Daniela Silva, experienced pilot João Lima and co-pilot Luís Rosindo.
Portugal’s President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa expressed his condolences over the tragedy, and said “it is particularly tragic that these heroes of medical emergencies, who spent their days saving patients and victims of accidents, have themselves perished in this way”.
Prime Minister António Costa also sent his condolences; speaking to reporters during an official visit to Abu Dhabi, he said the “causes of the accident” would be discovered in time.
Early suggestions are that the helicopter collided with a mountain-top antenna shortly before 7pm, as it flew low on a rainy, foggy night, over the Santa Justa mountain range in Valongo.
Other reports state the alert device that emits a frequency in the event the aircraft crashes “did not work, which made it difficult to locate the helicopter”.
The wreckage and the bodies were, according to the ANPC, located at around 2am on Sunday morning.
The families of the INEM doctor and nurse will, according to reports, receive at least half a million euros in compensation.