Army’s Cheetah chopper crash lands in Ladakh
An Army Aviation Cheetah helicopter crash landed on Wednesday at Partapur where the army’s Siachen brigade is headquartered. Army sources said engine failure led to the crash. The crew is safe.
The Cheetahs play a crucial role in supporting the army on the Siachen glacier, one of the world’s highest battlefields, flying at more than 20,000 feet.
The army’s ageing Cheetah fleet has been a cause of concern for several years. In December 2016, the army and air force grounded their fleets of light-utility helicopters, concerned if the machines were fit to fly after three army aviators were killed in a crash in West Bengal.
More than 280 Cheetah and Chetak helicopters, lifeline of troops in high-altitude areas including Siachen glacier, were grounded for comprehensive safety checks.
The design of the helicopters is more than 50 years old and their airworthiness has been questioned after a string of mishaps in recent years. A group of wives of serving officers met then defence minister Manohar Parrikar in 2015, demanding the helicopters be retired.
Hindustan Aeronautics Limited has licence-produced 625 Cheetah and Chetak helicopters. It no longer builds them but is responsible for their maintenance and repair, a cause for concern.
Nine personnel were killed in six accidents involving these machines during 2012-15.
HAL in 1970 signed an agreement with French aerospace firm Aerospatiale to produce Cheetahs, eight years after it tied up with another French firm, Sud-Aviation (now Airbus), to manufacture Chetaks.
In August 2014, India scrapped a Rs 6,000-crore project to import light utility helicopters to replace Cheetah and Chetak helicopters, the third time the procurement was scrapped due to corruption allegations and technical issues.
The Kamov-226T light utility choppers, to be built with Russia, are to replace these helicopters. However, the programme is yet to kick off and the military may have to wait several years for the new machines.