Sherab Lhamo

For close to a year now, the surviving victims of the helicopter crash had been going around in circles – from one office to the next, from one official to another, trying to get the rightful insurance claims. 

On March 3, 2023, at 2:45pm the helicopter operated by Drukair crashed at Wangchey, Lunana, as Gyem Gyeltshen and his family were travelling from Khuruthang to Wachey resulting in the death of his wife and four-year-old daughter. Gyem Gyeltshen, his elder daughter and the pilot survived the crash.

As per the insurance contract, Gyem Gyeltshen should be receiving a maximum of USD 200,000 per death, under the passenger voluntary settlement. However, he had not received anything so far as the responsible stakeholders – the Drukair, Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan (RICB), the reinsurer who hired Hallman Fenwick William (HFW) and their local lawyers, remained entangled in misinformation, disinformation, and overall lack of communications. 

Hallman Fenwick William (HFW) had appointed Cheda, a Bhutanese lawyer, as their legal counsel in Bhutan to coordinate the settlement. 

The international Reinsurance Companies were QBE Insurance Group Limited located in Australia and Best Meridian International Insurance Company SPC.

Following the crash, On July 19, 2023, Drukair had sent an official letter to RICB Chief Executive Officer seeking directives and a timeline for the settlement of passenger liability claims. The letter also mentioned that the insurance contract has coverage of USD 200,000 per death under passenger voluntary settlement.

A follow-up email was sent on August 15, 2023, to RICB requesting for the release of the amount to Drukair for further disbursement to the immediate family members. 

Three days later, RICB responded stating that they had received a report from the Broker that a reserve fund of USD 400,000 had been created for the two deceased passengers as per the policy. 

It also mentioned that USD 200,000 per passenger was the maximum limit of the claim and the claim shall be offered considering the nationality of the passengers, local law of Bhutan, age of the passengers, employment of the passengers, dependency on how many family members they were supporting, the financial status of the passengers. But if the deceased was the sole breadwinner then the settlement amount would differ.

Again on September 7, 2023, Drukair wrote to the CEO of RICB to expedite the pending settlement of passenger liability, as it could potentially lead to anticipated legal actions from the deceased family members and regulatory bodies.

To which RICB responded by stating they were working closely with the Broker and Legal representative Mr Cheda. They also requested from Drukair on the modality of payment.

On August 4, 2023, Reinsurer instructed HWF to settle the two death cases at USD 10,000 each including funeral expenses through an email Drukair had received from HFW.

In an email by the Reinsurer ( international Reinsurance Companies QBE Insurance (Australia) Limited and Best Meridian International Insurance Company SPC), Drukair was required to submit a court order indemnifying the legal heir for both the deceased.  The Reinsurers had agreed that the settlement offer may be extended to the husband through them or their local counsel Mr Cheda. The settlement would be subject to confirmation of the legal heirs. If agreed to, the HWF would instruct Mr Cheda to reach out to the family on Drukair’s behalf. 

Following this, the Drukair had permitted to get directly in touch with the family of the deceased regarding the claim settlement. 

Gyem Gyeltshen told Kuensel that Drukair told him to contact Mr Cheda regarding the insurance as they had submitted the responsibility to him.

About two and a half months ago, Gyem Gyeltshen met up with the lawyer Cheda in Punkha and was offered USD 10,000 for each deceased, As Cheda told him he was not eligible to receive more. Thinking it to be true, Gyem provided him with a bank account number for the transfer of the money. 

However, Gyem did not sign any documents, nor were there any disagreements regarding the amount of the claims. He said he was also not aware that he would be getting USD 200,000 per victim. He came to know about it only when he visited the RICB office a few days ago to follow up on the insurance claims. 

The CEO and officials from Drukair and Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan Limited (RICB) in a meeting on January 29 decided a meeting between all stakeholders ( RICB, Drukair, legal representative of the reinsurer (provides insurance to insurance companies) and the affected party) will meet on February 6 to decide the way forward.