Erratic winds, pilot error eyed in UH-1D chopper crash

Chiara Zambrano, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 11 2015 08:58 PM | Updated as of Nov 11 2015 10:48 PM

MANILA - Investigation is ongoing to determine the cause of the helicopter crash that injured four members of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) and five members of the Philippine Army in Sarangani province last Saturday, November 7.

The UH-1D chopper was on its way to extricate Army soldiers injured in a firefight with the New People's Army (NPA) in Malapatan, Sarangani when it missed its landing zone and tumbled down a ravine at 9:40 a.m.

All nine passengers were injured, with the pilot suffering a leg injury. The five Army soldiers who were supposed to replace their injured comrades became casualties as well.

According to PAF spokesperson Col. Enrico Canaya, so far, environmental conditions like erratic wind movement appear to be the cause of the crash since the landing spot was on top of a mountain ridge.

They have also not ruled out the possibility of pilot error contributing to the accident.

But so far, Canaya said there has been nothing to indicate that the UH-1D itself was defective thereby causing the crash.

The said chopper is one of the seven refurbished UH-1Ds that the Department of National Defense (DND) recently acquired as part of its modernization program for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

The acquisition became controversial when a disgruntled contractor alleged that there was corruption in the procurement process.

The airworthiness of the helicopters was also put to question when a legislator made public initial reviews showing some of the units having engine trouble, with others refusing to start.

The PAF, however, assured the public that defects were corrected before the units were officially turned over by the supplier.

In an effort to prove their airworthiness, the DND conducted a full demonstration of all seven at Camp Aguinaldo, even letting members of the media take quick flights aboard, this news team included.

Canaya asserted that there was nothing wrong with the UH-1D that crashed, and that the PAF saw no reason to ground the rest of the units.

He himself, in full confidence, would ride these choppers anytime, he said. As a matter of fact, Canaya said the soldiers who were on board believed the new full-torso harness system of the UH-1D saved their lives, in comparison to the safety belt of the older UH-1H choppers that only secured the waist.

The injured soldiers are now in hospital, and the soldiers on the ground have been successfully extricated by another helicopter. The body of one soldier killed in battle has also been flown out.

The crashed chopper, unfortunately, has been totally destroyed and can no longer fly again.

The PAF has resorted to stripping it of the parts that can still be salvaged and used, before leaving the rest of it in the mountains.