VITAL ARMY HELICOPTER CRASHES- SUNDAY MIRROR- *NOVEMBER 2009

This story revealed how one of the army's much needed Merlin helicopters crashed while on military training in the US.


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The article appeared in the Sunday Mirror newspaper as an exclusive.


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Safety fears on Afghanistan helicopters after training exercise crash

SUNDAY MIRROR NEWSPAPER


A helicopter that was part of a vital fleet of eight due to be sent to Afghanistan crashed during a training exercise, injuring three RAF officers.

The Merlin was badly damaged when it tipped over after landing during a test run in the US. One of the injured broke his legs and another fractured three ribs.

It will raise fears about the safety of the aircraft described by the military as a vital tool in the fight against the Taliban.

Emergency services rushed to free the 12 crew from the wreckage at a US naval air base in El Centro, California. An investigation has been launched into the the cause the crash.

Yesterday the Ministry of Defence insisted there were no plans to ground the fleet of Merlins. A spokesman said: "An RAF Merlin helicopter participating in pre-deployment training was involved in a crash landing.

"There were no fatalities or serious injuries and an inquiry has been convened to investigate the causes. This incident will not affect plans for the deployment of Merlin helicopters to Afghanistan in the next few weeks."

Eighty officers from RAF Benson, Oxfordshire, have been training at the base in California for the past four months before going to Afghanistan. The base was selected because it has the same "hot and high" conditions as Afghanistan with temperatures soaring to 50C and rarely dropping below 35C.

The Merlins, which can hold 20 troops each, will provide vital support to ground operations and transport.

The Government has been criticised for not getting them to troops in Afghanistan sooner. Last week in his emotional conversation with the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq, Gordon Brown explained why it had taken so long.

The Prime Minister told Jacqui Janes: "The helicopter pilots have got to go to America to be trained in the high altitude and at night. I'm sorry that is the case but that is the reality."

Armed Forces Minister Bill Rammell said earlier this month: "The Merlin will be a welcome addition to the helicopter force, adding to the capacity of our battlefield helicopter capability and increasing its flexibility."

A policeman died and 15 other people were wounded by a car bomb at a checkpoint in Peshawarbear, Pakistan, near the Afghan border yesterday. It follows a similar attack on an intelligence agency office that killed 17 people.




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