Questions raised after commando dies in helicopter jump

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A 27-year-old commando who was critical after a training exercise has died of his injuries, raising questions about the National Guard’s safety record.

The Defence Ministry announced his death Wednesday, sending sincere condolences to the man’s family.

The third National Guard training death in 13 months triggers questions about whether the army’s fit for purpose.

The non-commissioned officer, Panayiotis Yiannios, was injured after jumping from a helicopter during a military search and rescue exercise near Lara Bay in Paphos on Monday.

After the incident, the officer was treated for multiple spine fractures and brain swelling at Nicosia General’s Intensive Care Unit, where he succumbed to his injuries on Wednesday.

He was injured after jumping out of a helicopter into the sea as part of the exercise taking place off Paphos.

The National Guard has launched a probe into the accident, with the Defence Ministry saying the soldier was one of the most experienced and qualified, having served as a contract member of the army for six years.

“It was not his first time; he had carried out such training and exercises before,” said Defence Ministry spokesperson Christos Pieri.

“Such training exercises are routine,” Pieri added, saying they are carried out monthly.

Pieri argued the commando had not dived into the water correctly with his legs first.

He said the soldier jumped from the helicopter at the correct altitude, which is set at the height of about eight metres.

The officer was rescued by a boat according to the exercise scenario, but he was found unconscious in the water.

Three deaths

Following the fatal incident, the National Guard has come under the microscope, as this is the third fatal accident involving military personnel in just over a year.

A month earlier, Corporal Natalie Neophytou, 27, was killed after an army jeep she was a passenger in overturned and landed on her.

Neophytou was accompanying a soldier and another officer to fill up the jeep with fuel following a military exercise.

A year earlier, on 25 May 2021, a 32-year-old army officer, Xanthos Kyriakou, fell to his death while trying to descend from a cliff using a climbing rope, which appears to have snapped.

Kyriakou was participating in a search and rescue exercise at the time of the accident.

Criminal investigations into the deaths of two army officers by the police have been concluded with findings to be handed to the Legal Services to decide whether criminal responsibility burdens the National Guard.

Meanwhile, local media question the army’s version of events on the latest fatality.

Phileleftheros daily Thursday quoted an unnamed expert on military exercises claiming that mistakes were made during the exercise.

The daily claimed that the jump took place at 20 metres, a much higher height than the eight metres indicated for such jumps into the sea.

Asked by Phileleftheros whether jumping from such a height into the sea could be fatal, the expert said: “It would be like hitting a cement pavement”.

The same expert doubted whether the officer had sufficient training, as his military background suggests he was not a marine.

Phileleftheros revealed it was not a training exercise but part of a commercial TV spot for the National Guard.