Agusta fleet grounded as another chopper crash-lands

2010-12-16 00:00

THE fleet of 27 Agusta helicopters of the South African Air Force has been temporarily grounded after a new aircraft made an emergency landing at Ballito yesterday.

Three people were hurt, but the extent of the injuries was not known last night.

The helicopters have been temporarily withdrawn as it is suspected the accident was caused by a problem with the tail rotor.

Experts said the fact that the chopper, stationed at 15 Squadron in Durban, spun wildly indicated such a problem, and that the competence of the pilot probably averted a worse accident.

This is the second incident in three weeks in which one of these helicopters, bought as part of the controversial arms deal, has been damaged. In the previous incident at Potchefstroom, the pilot landed hard, damaging the chassis.

Three crew members were killed in May last year when an Agusta helicopter came down in the Woodstock dam in KwaZulu-Natal.

Yesterday’s accident happened at about 11.30 am while the defence force was helping police with a holiday crime-fighting project.

A Business Against Crime member, the pilot and co-pilot were injured. Also on board was Lieutenant-Colonel J.J. Geldenhuys of 15 Squadron. He was not injured.

Eyewitness Johan Prinsloo said the helicopter circled twice before the engine stopped at tree height, with the helicopter spinning and falling in the veld.

Prinsloo, who works for a windscreen company at the Laguna Seca industrial park, was standing outside when the accident happened.

The accident scene is near the Caledon residential complex that includes a boutique hotel and spa. It is ringed by trees and powerlines.

The Agusta helicopters were scheduled to form part of a military parade honouring past and present defence force members, to be reviewed by President Jacob Zuma today.

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