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CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines – The Philippine Air Force (PAF) grounded the rest of its light plane-sized Hermes 900 drones after one crashed near a popular mountain resort in Bukidnon province near Cagayan de Oro on Saturday, May 28.
Colonel Meynard Mariano, the PAF spokesman, told Rappler on Monday, May 30, that eight of the remaining Israel-made unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have been ordered grounded until PAF was done with an ongoing investigation.
The place where the reconnaissance UAV crashed has been secured and was off-limits to the public as investigators came in search of data, and combed the area for clues.
Menardo ruled out the possibility that rebels in Bukidnon had a hand in the crash, or that it was a case of sabotage.
The military has been using drones in carrying out offensives against the New People’s Army (NPA) in Bukidnon and other provinces in Mindanao.
Mariano said the initial investigation indicated that a problem with connectivity was what brought the medium-sized, medium-altitude, long-endurance UAV down while it descended toward Cagayan de Oro.
The military drone took off from the Lumbia Airport in Cagayan de Oro at around 9:30 am for a functional check flight (FCF), reaching an altitude of 10,000 feet.
The PAF lost communication and control of it as it descended 5,000 feet, some 1.5 miles east of the Lumbia Airport in Cagayan de Oro where the PAF’s Tactical Operation Group (TOG) in Northern Mindanao is stationed.
Mariano said the test went on smoothly until the descending UAV reached and flew over Baungon town in Bukidnon more than two hours after it took off.
Major Francisco Garello Jr., the spokesman of the Army’s 4th Infantry Division, said the UAV crashed near Ultra Winds, a popular mountain resort in Bukidnon because of its proximity to Cagayan de Oro.
He said the area was immediately secured on Saturday.
The UAV crashed on vegetation. It neither hurt no one nor seriously damaged any private property, according to PAF officials.
Mariano said the eight remaining Hermes 900 UAVs would remain grounded “until we establish the real cause of the loss of connectivity.”
In the meantime, he said, the PAF would use other UAVs for its reconnaissance operations.
Aside from the Hermes 900s, which cost nearly P1 billion to P1.5 billion each depending on the specifications, the PAF also has at least four older Hermes 450 UAVs which are among the most widely used military drones in the world.
The UAV was one of nine Israel-made military drones that were acquired by the government in 2020 as part of the defense modernization program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
Mariano called the Hermes 900 UAVs “top of the line.”
In a separate interview, Mariano told Cagayan de Oro-based broadcaster Magnum Radio that the PAF had used the ill-fated UAV to help in disaster response other than for military intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance operations.
“We used that recently to monitor floods in disaster-prone areas during a typhoon,” he said. – Rappler.com