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Helicopter crash caused by kite?

Believe it or not, but it appears that a simple kite caused the crash of an Air Force Huey helicopter gunship last Saturday in Mactan, in which nine people were killed.


Despite its spotty survivability record of late, the former backbone of US involvement in the Vietnam War in the 1960s continues to be the workhorse of the Philippine Air Force and other military forces in the world that rely largely on US surplus donations and getting downed by a kite is simply not an easy swallow.


But that appears to be where the initial findings of the investigation seems to be moving.


Maj. Gen. Pedro Ike Incierto of the Philippine Air Force Tactical Operations Command said in a press conference yesterday that based on intial investigations, it appeared that the rotor of the aircraft was no longer functioning at the time it slammed into the ground and hit two tricycles near its home base at the Mactan Benito Ebuen Air Base.


In addition, Incierto said, there were witnesses who saw at least big kites flying near the Lapulapu City public market over which the helicopter passed by.


At the scene of the crash, investigators found a length of nylon cord wound around the rotor, prompting speculations that this may have interfered with the rotor function of the aircraft, causing it to crash.


But Incierto said the investigation is not over yet and it would be speculative to consider the nylon cord of a kite as the main reason for the crash.


The Air Force, however, admitted that the cord is considered as one of the factors.


Among the things that the investigation has yet to determine are the final indications of the aircraft instruments to see if there were any malfunctions of the engine or any part thereof.


In the crash, two of the aircraft’s crew members died, along with seven civilians on board two tricycles. Of the seven civilians who were killed on the spot, only one, a female, remains unidentified.


The six civilian casualties already identified were Rey Ladesma, Jenevieve Garcia, Nenita Dungon, Charmaigne Belangel, Delon Acompado, and Laura Jumao-as.


The two Air Force crewmen killed were 1st Lt. Jose Imbat and Sgt. Michael Gabino. The pilot, Capt. Allan Villagarcia and M/Sgt. Johnny Reyes survived the accident.


Lt. Gen. Horacio Tolentino, the commander general of the Philippine Air Force, arrived here yesterday to oversee the investigation.


Tolentino said the helicopter was on a training mission and had been undergoing maneuvers for two hours when it crash while on the way home back to base.


It crashed on a road in sitio Humayhumay in Lapulapu City just a short distance away from home. It was a total wreck, as were the tricycles it hit.


Tolentino ordered all 41 remaining Huey helicopters in the Philippine Air Force grounded pending the final results of the investigation .


Tolentino said the aircraft has logged a total of 7, 215 flying hours but that, by PAF standards, it was a relatively new aircract comparted to some really older Huey helicopters that the PAF has.


The P3 million Huey 6225 was delivered on July 12, 2003 from the US and was acquired through the Excess Defense Article of that country.


Tolentino said Villagarcia was a senior pilot and a qualified flying instructor who has logged a total of 1, 707 flying hours. Imbat was trying to qualify as a training pilot.


Since the Air Force has considered the kite as a factor in the accident, Tolentino appealed to local governments to limit or regulate kite-flying .


Air Transportation Office regulations already prohibit kite-flying within 2.5 kilometers of an aerodome but these have never been implemented and the ATO does not have any police powers to enforce its own rules.


Tolentino said last Saturday’s accident was not an isolated case as many of the accidents involving Air Force aircraft have something to do with kite-flying .


The Air Force will be providing financial assistance to all the victims, Tolentino said. (/JST)

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