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Advanced and robust chopper; weather could have been crash factor

No system malfunction or snag was reported in the last 2-3 sorties of this particular helicopter, sources said, adding "its history was clear, and there had been no technical failure".

Written by Pranav Mukul , Man Aman Singh Chhina | Chandigarh, New Delhi |
Updated: December 9, 2021 12:18:34 pm
As per IAF protocol, prior to any VIP flights, the aircraft undergoes a three-stage mechanical check, following which access to the aircraft is sealed.

The Mi-17V5 helicopter that crashed Wednesday had flown more than 26 hours without a snag after it was last serviced, according to sources. It belonged to the 109 Helicopter Unit based at the Sulur air base near Coimbatore.

No system malfunction or snag was reported in the last 2-3 sorties of this particular helicopter, sources said, adding “its history was clear, and there had been no technical failure”.

The Mi-17V5 is considered one of the “safest” and “most modern” military transport helicopters, a retired IAF officer said. “One must wait for the detailed investigation, but the past record of the helicopter model shows it is impeccable and 100% reliable.”

As per IAF protocol, prior to any VIP flights, the aircraft undergoes a three-stage mechanical check, following which access to the aircraft is sealed.

“To my mind, it must have been a freak accident because with a helicopter, even if both the engines fail, it is possible to land in a paddy field somewhere given the right conditions,” the retired officer said.

Rescue workers at the site of the helicopter crash in Coonoor, Tamil Nadu, on Wednesday. (PTI)

The Mi-17 V5 is a “forgiving” aircraft — it is very sturdy and robust, and can fly in extreme circumstances. “The most likely reason for the crash could be foggy weather which reduced visibility… Looking at the disintegration pattern, it appears, the chopper probably hit a tree trunk or its rotor got entangled in overhead cables,” a source said.

The Indian government had awarded a contract to the Russian manufacturers for 80 Mi-17V5 helicopters in 2008 at a cost of USD 1.3 billion. While the first of these were delivered to India in 2013, the final batch arrived in 2018.

The helicopter has many variants, including a 36-seater for carrying troops, for cargo transport and a version with an emergency flotation system. It is operated by a three-member crew — a pilot, co-pilot and flight engineer.

The single-rotor helicopter can gain a maximum speed of 250 km per hour and a cruise speed of 230 km per hour. While its main fuel tanks’ range is 675 km, with two auxiliary fuel tanks it can fly for 1,180 km. It can carry a maximum payload of 4,000 kg.

The IAF has a repair and overhaul facility for the Mi-17V5 helicopters in Chandigarh. The crash Wednesday was the fifth of this variant in the last nine years.

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