BELIZE CITY, Tues. Sept. 8, 2020– A collective sigh of relief could be heard on Monday afternoon across the country as news of Constable Bernard Ical’s safe return was made public. The police officer, who is a member of a special patrol unit consisting of BDF soldiers and police officers who were assigned to the Machaquila BDF outpost in the Toledo District, reportedly became lost in the dense jungle near the outpost.
In a press conference held on Tuesday morning, Ical said, “Out there in the jungle, being alone is very sad, the worst day of my life.”
PC Ical, along with eight soldiers from the Belize Defence Force, was dispatched to the Machaquila BDF outpost to conduct patrols for 15 days.
The team was dropped off in San Jose Hawaii, the starting point, and began a hike to the Machaquila outpost. Most of the soldiers completed the journey in a matter of hours, but Ical and another BDF soldier took a complete day to reach the base in Machaquila.
When they arrived, they were immediately informed that the operation was cut short by the threat of Hurricane Nana, and they were ordered to return to San Jose Hawaii.
This was the day after the arduous journey to Machaquila, and according to the timeline, this was when Ical became separated from the joint patrol.
“From my view, I was following the patrol, and I lost [sight] of the patrol and then from there, I took a wrong track,” PC Ical said.
The BDF soldiers arrived at the rendezvous point in San Jose Hawaii, but Ical did not arrive, even after 24 hours had passed.
The BDF initially thought that he had gone ahead of them, but soon found that they were terribly wrong. A report of Ical’s disappearance was sent to officials when the soldiers were picked up the following day, and a search commenced immediately.
It must be noted that the locals in the area, who possess extensive knowledge of the terrain, were not involved in the search until the last day.
So, on his first night lost in the jungle, Ical had to weather Hurricane Nana. He said, “The weather in the jungle is no joke. It was rough wind, rain, everything.”
PC Ical spent 6 days lost, with nothing but noodles and sausages to eat, before spotting an Astrum chopper that was ordered to hover over the Garcia Falls area by Commissioner of Police Chester Williams.
This was when PC Ical began to make his way back to civilization. He said, “When I heard the helicopter, I knew it was going in one direction, to Machaquila, so I said, if I don’t go in this direction, I am going in the wrong direction.”
The officer said that when he finally saw the outpost, he felt grateful, and particularly thankful to God that he had made it back to the operating base. He was airlifted on Tuesday morning to the Police Training Academy, where he was reunited with his wife and two daughters.
But while his return is a happy ending to a scenario that could have ended tragically, many questions still remain unanswered. Commissioner Williams was asked whether there was a breakdown in communication between police and the BDF while they were on the jungle patrol, but he chose only to say that he and General Ortega would be in communication to remedy any shortfalls on the ground.
The “buddy system” used by soldiers and law enforcement officers requires that no team member be left alone at any time. This is especially utilized on jungle operations. The dense forest near the Machaquila outpost is riddled with trails created by Guatemalan “chateros” who still plunder the area, despite the presence of Belizean soldiers.
This area of the jungle is known, however, by the locals who live near the area. Leader of the Belize Territorial Volunteers (BTV), Wil Maheia, told Amandala that the BTV has groups in the surrounding villages, so he had contacted Commissioner Williams, who agreed to utilize the expertise of members of the BTV.
On Monday, two members of the BTV were dispatched with each police search group to lend guidance in the jungle. Valentino Tzub, the jungle expert with the BTV, guided security officials and outlined the key features of the area.
All in all, despite the search efforts of the over 70 security personnel and civilians on Monday, it was the hovering helicopter that Ical followed that pointed toward the direction to his camp.
This fact suggests that Ical’s extended stay in the jungle could have been cut short if an aircraft had been used from the beginning.