Crash grounds Army air fleet
Published 28/08/2011 | 05:00
THE key aircraft fleet used by Ireland's elite anti-terrorist force for security operations, the Army Ranger Wing, has been grounded after a fatal crash abroad.
The AW139 helicopter, which can carry eight rangers and two gunners for operating side-mounted machine guns, is extensively used for training and operations by the rangers.
A quick-reaction force of up to 20 heavily armed rangers in two AW139s and a smaller EC-135 helicopter was on standby during the visits by Queen Elizabeth and US President Barack Obama earlier this year.
But now helicopter operators in Brazil and Australia have joined the Irish Air Corps in grounding the best-selling helicopter -- which has left 75 per cent of the Air Corp's chopper fleet unable to fly.
It may be some time before Anglo-Italian manufacturer AgustaWestland gives the all-clear for operators to again fly their twin-engined AW139 helicopters after the crash of a similar aircraft in Brazil more than a week ago.
A Senior Taxi Aereo AW139 was flying from an oil rig 100km off the Brazilian coast when the crew declared an emergency indicating a hydraulic systems failure.
They tried to return to the oil rig but crashed into the sea, killing all four people on board. The aircraft was recovered and is being examined by Brazilian technical experts, AgustaWestland and the engine supplier Pratt and Whitney of Canada.
As a result of the crash, the company issued a technical bulletin in relation to the tail rotor of the helicopter and the Air Corps has temporarily grounded its €72m fleet of six helicopters.
The Defence Forces said the suspension of operations would be lifted when all aspects of the technical bulletin were resolved to the satisfaction of the Air Corps Military Aviation Authority.
The AW139 helicopters are used for a variety of tasks including training with Special Forces, limited troop transport and the air ambulance role in an agreement with the HSE. Smaller EC-135 helicopters are to be used in the air ambulance role.
Meanwhile, the Air Corps Learjet carried out an air ambulance mission to London yesterday. It collected a medical team from Cork Airport and flew to London Heathrow, where a patient was collected.
The Air Corps transferred the patient and medical team back to Cork Airport, for onward transfer to Cork University Hospital.