Mexican Navy Helicopter Crashes During Anti-Poaching Operation
During the late afternoon on October 20, a Mexican Navy helicopter crashed into the ocean while engaged in anti-poaching patrols in the Upper Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez).
The MI-17 helicopter was in the middle of a patrol, ensuring the marine protected area in the Upper Gulf of California was free from illegal activities, when it apparently lost control and crashed into the sea. Fishermen in the area reported the incident to authorities using mobile phones and assisted the rescue in pangas (small fishing skiffs) before the Mexican Navy arrived on the scene.
11 of the 12 helicopter crew were rescued. Nine are reported to be in good condition, with two seriously injured and one missing.
The cause of the crash is under investigation by the Mexican Navy.
The Sea Shepherd ship the M/V Farley Mowat also participated in the search and rescue operation. Using the same techniques used to find illegal fishing gear, the marine conservation group pinpointed the position of the helicopter wreck using sonar. The M/V Farley Mowat was dockside in San Felipe Harbor at the time of the incident.
At 1:30am on October 21, 2018, Navy divers were sent down to confirm the location pinpointed by the sonar. Due to strong currents and poor visibility, it was not possible for the divers to find anything, but next morning they confirmed the helicopter wreckage at 8.7 meters depth. The missing person was not found in the wreckage.
The Mexican Navy is present in the Upper Gulf of California and patrols the area protecting the vaquita porpoise – the most endangered marine mammal in the world. The last released study showed that less than 30 vaquita were alive. The vaquita is endangered as a result of poaching of another endangered species, the totoaba fish. Totoabas are fished exclusively for their swim bladders, which are sold in Asian black markets for upwards of $20,000.
This is Sea Shepherd’s fifth season in the region, working by invitation of Mexican authorities. The marine conservation group returned to the area in September to remove illegal gillnets from the marine protected area.
The Mexican government is engaging in an unprecedented effort to save the vaquita, dedicating resources from the navy, the army and several other federal institutions to keep the species from disappearing.