Heroes Highway: Eccles to Diamond four-lane named in honour of fallen soldiers


Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, President Dr Irfaan Ali on Sunday announced that the Eccles to Diamond four-lane Highway has been named the ‘Heroes Highway’ in honour of five soldiers who died in the line of duty last week while on a border mission.

The Head of State made the emotional announcement during the commissioning ceremony of the mega highway in the presence of the families who lost their loved ones in the accident.

The five ranks of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF), Lieutenant Colonel Michael Charles, Colonel Michael Shahoud, Brigadier (Ret’d) Gary Beaton, Lieutenant Colonel Sean Welcome and Staff Sergeant Jason Khan died in a horrific helicopter crash on December 6.

They were among a crew of seven soldiers who were onboard the Bell 412 helicopter which departed Base Camp Ayanganna in Georgetown on the morning of December 6.

In an emotional address to the large gathering, the President, through tears, recalled the close relationship he shared with those who perished.

He started with Staff Sergeant Jason Khan, a 35-year-old who served the GDF for some 19 years.

The Eccles to Diamond four-lane highway was named the Heroes’ Highway in honour of the five soldiers who died in the helicopter crash.

“And if (Colonel) Shahoud would speak about him, you would believe that he was Superman and Batman combined for real. He was on a mission, a mission to ensure he supervised a project to be completed by January.

“This young man has made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

“His wife and children must know he has not died, he is living. Now, you are my family. I will stand by you and his children,” the Commander in Chief said.

President Ali remembered recalling Brigadier (Ret’d) Gary Beaton out of retirement and how willing he was to serve the GDF again.

President Dr Irfaan Ali, families of the fallen soldiers and others at the commissioning ceremony of the Heroes Highway (Photo: News Room/December 10, 2023)

“Beaton was waiting for this highway to be completed. We had many conversations, we shared many ideas. He has given his life for this country. He would have it no other way.

“He lives on in greater glory.”

In recalling his time with Colonel Shahoud, the President could no longer hold back his tears.

“Just three days before the (December) 6, I was talking to a number of the senior command – they said, ‘your son did not tell you as yet?’

“He reported everything to me so they regarded him as my son.

“Shahoud was a loyalist to the core; he was an outstanding individual.

“He could have done many more things that would have earned him more money but he would want it no other way. We spent a lot of time together.”

One of the President’s last messages from Colonel Shahoud was a photo he sent of him (Ali) looking out of the helicopter to the border and he wrote, “Commander in Chief, we love you.”

The President said he responded, “I love you guys too.”

President Dr Irfaan Ali, families of the fallen soldiers and others at the commissioning ceremony of the Heroes Highway (Photo: News Room/December 10, 2023)

“I say this to let all of us know, regardless of where you sit, let the people who serve you know how you feel about them.

“These are not ordinary men. These are men who have paid the ultimate price for our country,” the Head of State said.

As he continued to hold back tears, President Ali described Lieutenant Colonel Sean Welcome as a man of “great integrity and character.”

“This mission was special for him – he wanted to ensure that our reserves and training were in a state of readiness.

“He wanted to do it himself.”

And for Lieutenant Colonel Michael ‘Mike’ Charles, the President regarded him as his “brother.”

Charles, with 40 years of experience, was the pilot of the ill-fated helicopter.

“Mike Charles is not just a military man. He allowed every Guyanese to see Guyana through his lens and showcased his country every opportunity he got.

“We spent many, many hours together, many days together.”

He recalled that just two days before the fatal accident, Charles was determined to honour the memory of two pilots who died under similar circumstances in the same area 50 years ago.

In the company of another Army rank, Lieutenant Colonel Charles flew over the area and laid wreaths in their honour.

President Dr Irfaan Ali, families of the fallen soldiers and others at ribbon cutting ceremony of the Heroes Highway (Photo: News Room/December 10, 2023)

“Mike Charles did what he did with love and honour; he didn’t just fly, he flew for Guyana.”

The Head of State went on to honour and pray for the two survivors of the December 6 crash, Corporal Dwayne Jackson and Lieutenant Andio Crawford.

“We are thankful that God was good enough to give us back the two of you alive.

“These men are nothing short of national heroes. These men lived in honour and sacrifice for their country.

“And we want their children to know that their fathers paid the ultimate price for all of us, every single Guyanese. They must know that this sacrifice was not in vain.”

The four-lane highway features a giant anteater, which President Ali said represents the strength, resilience and courage of the servicemen.

An inscription of all of the names of the fallen soldiers is underneath and a steel structure will be placed at the Eccles roundabout where their names will be physically placed.

“This highway is appropriately named the Heroes Highway – for all the men and women we lose in the line of duty henceforth, their names will be added,” the Commander in Chief said.

He added, “It is dedicated to the life, work, and memories of our five great servicemen. We honour them with this highway. We want their children to grow up knowing their fathers were legends.

“We want them to know that their fathers were honourable men, duty-bound men.”

In a message to the Chief of Staff of the GDF, Brigadier Oman Khan, President Ali, said the mission must go on.

“Chief of Staff, with the strength of all those who proceeded you, with the strength of your enormous team, with the strength of all the men and women under your command and with my support, I want to say to you, we shall not bow, we shall not despair, we shall overcome.”

Meanwhile, Brigadier Khan addressed the gathering earlier and honoured the lives of the ranks.

He said, “The 6 December 2023 will forever be etched in the memory of this nation. It occurred at a time when our sovereignty is being threatened and at its highest since our independence.”

He said the five fallen soldiers represent the “epitome of military service.”

“These men, our men, our brothers have given human service to our nation and I know for sure they have not even considered another career than this one.”

The army helicopter reportedly lost signal 30 miles from the border with Venezuela.

A search and rescue operation was launched to locate the crew members and the aircraft. On December 7, the rescue team located the crash site about nine miles southeast of “Blake Slater’s” airstrip, Ekereku Top, Cuyuni River. They subsequently confirmed that five crew members perished in the accident.

The accident plunged the country into deep mourning with President Ali declaring Sunday a ‘Day of Prayer and Reflection.’