7 Sokol helicopters grounded after Marawi crash


Posted at Aug 08 2014 11:55 PM | Updated as of Aug 09 2014 07:55 AM

MANILA - Philippine Air Force chief Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Delgado has ordered the grounding of 7 Sokol helicopters following the crash of a similar aircraft in Marawi City on Thursday.

The helicopter, which served as a back-up to another Sokol chopper carrying Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, crashed shortly after take-off from the Army's 103rd Infantry Brigade headquarters at Camp Ranao.

The Cabinet mission aerial convoy visited to an electricity project in the city.

Eleven people, including 4th Infantry Division commander Maj. Gen. Ricardo Visaya, were on board the aircraft.

Visaya said their helicopter had difficulty gaining altitude and crashed near a house .

Helicopter crew member Staff Sgt. Darius Valdez was hurt in the crash. A boy identified as Santiago Savedra, meanwhile, was hit by debris when the aircraft went down.

Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Enrico Canaya said Delgado ordered the grounding of the Sokol helicopters "immediately after the crash."

"We have an (ongoing) investiation, so pending the result, we have to ground the Sokol helicopters," Canaya said.

He added that a team from the Air Force is now at the crash site, getting information from witnesses.

The Sokols, acquired from the Polish firm PZL Swidnik for P2.8 billion under the military modernization program, are used by the Air Force for search and rescue operations and VIP transport.

PZL Swidnik delivered the aircraft in three batches, completing it in February last year. Five months later, one of the Sokols encountered "minor discrepancy" in Camp Aguinaldo, arising from defective battery.

"The Sokol helicopters will not be used for the meantime but we still have other helicopters to fill up the gap created by this (grounding). We have UH1H (Huey), we have S-76 helicopters from the 505 Search and Rescue Group available," Canaya said.