By Janet Tappin Coelho
A teenager was pulled alive from the wreckage of a helicopter in which three people died amid a suspected hijacking.
Daniel da Silva, 18, was saved by quick-thinking locals who risked their lives to pull the teen out after the helicopter slammed into the ground in the town of Joinville, in south Brazil, around 4pm on Thursday.
The victims were identified as the pilot, Antonio Mário Franco Aguiar, 57, the co-pilot was named as 20-year-old Bruno Siqueiro. The passenger has not been named.
It is believed Silva and the other passenger was attempting to hijack the helicopter to be used in a jail break. Police found two firearms inside after the crash and witnesses reported hearing gunshots coming from the craft.
No one was injured on the ground. Moments before the accident the pilot reportedly sent an emergency code alerting company headquarters to the kidnapping.
The aircraft, run by an air-taxi company for sightseeing and chartered tours, is believed to have been booked by two men who kidnapped the crew after the flight took off from Penha, south Brazil.
The copter plummeted to the ground after flying for 70km (approximately 43 miles). It narrowly missed two houses, smashing into a wall in front of the homes and setting fire to a tree.
A video shows the blaze was swiftly controlled by firefighters who were quickly on the scene with military police, as black smoke from the accident billowed over the city.
Police said Silva was on temporary release from a semi-open prison for drug trafficking convictions. He suffered second and third degree burns across 15 percent of his body in the upper and lower limbs.
Investigators are working on the hypothesis the copter was commandeered to spring an inmate out of Joinville Regional Prison who was about to be transferred to a maximum-security jail.
The accident happened approximately 2km (just over a mile) from the penitentiary.
Witnesses told police they heard shots coming from the helicopter before it fell to the ground.
Speaking to local media, Detective Tânia Harada said: “After the pilot left Penha, he allegedly sent a code to his head office in Curitiba, that the aircraft had been kidnapped.
“We believe the passengers announced the hijacking soon after the helicopter took off. Local witnesses have told us they were startled by shooting in the air which they believe came from the helicopter. A pistol and a revolver were found by forensics in the wreckage.
“We suspect the aircraft was hired by the two men to fly over the Joinville area, but we are still investigating the motive and the circumstances behind what appears to be crime activity.”
Military police chief, Lieutenant Colonel Luis Viana de Oliveira told Joinville News: “The helicopter pilot did not have clearance to fly over Joinville
City and did not notify air traffic control of the overfly. This journey was not scheduled and was outside the company’s normal fly-zone.”
The aircraft, which is owned by Avalon Air Taxi, provides chartered services for Beta Carrero World, the largest amusement park in South
America and would normally be hired for a panoramic flight over the park which has over 100 attractions.
A chunk of the fuselage bearing the Beta World logo was found in the middle of the wreckage.
Avalon Air Taix said the chopper, a Bell 206, jet ranger twin bladed model, was not working for the park on Thursday and ‘was not operating on
the service routes offered by the attraction’.
A spokesperson for Beta Carrero theme park lamented the incident and said: “We deeply regret the crash of an aircraft and the fatalities. We are cooperating fully with the investigation and our condolences go out the families who have lost their loved ones.”
Medical staff at Sao Jose Municipal hospital said the Silva, who is under police guard, has been sedated to preserve his airways, which have been burned. No further update has been given about the state of his health.
The Centre for Research and Prevention of Aeronautical Accidents (Cenipa) has launched an investigation into the accident.