Military grounds ALH fleet after navy chopper makes emergency landing | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Military grounds ALH fleet after navy chopper makes emergency landing

ByRahul Singh
Mar 12, 2023 12:31 AM IST

The three services and the coast guard have grounded their entire fleets of the indigenous advanced light helicopter (ALH) for a comprehensive safety check, days after an Indian Navy ALH ditched into the Arabian Sea on March 8 following unexplained loss of power.

NEW DELHI: The three services and the coast guard have grounded their entire fleets of the indigenous advanced light helicopter (ALH) for a comprehensive safety check, days after an Indian Navy ALH ditched into the Arabian Sea on March 8 following unexplained loss of power, officials familiar with the matter said on Saturday.

The three services and the coast guard together operate more than 300 ALH variants. (File photo)
The three services and the coast guard together operate more than 300 ALH variants. (File photo)

Ditching is a hazardous manoeuvre, and refers to an aircraft making an emergency landing in water after loss of control. The three services and the coast guard together operate more than 300 ALH variants, officials said.

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The military’s ALH fleets have been grounded for the second time in less than five months. The platform was last grounded in October 2022 after an army Rudra helicopter, an armed version of ALH Dhruv, crashed in Arunachal Pradesh, killing all five personnel on board.

To be sure, it is not uncommon for an aircraft fleet to be grounded for inspection after an unexplained crash or incident.

The fleets will stay grounded till the inquiry into the naval ALH incident is complete, and the reasons for the mishap are established, said one of the officials cited above asking not to be named. While the navy is still probing the incident, the ditching may have been the result of a material failure, HT has learnt.

The ALH Dhruv is a twin engine, multi-mission helicopter in the 5.5-tonne class. The three services operate around 300 variants of the ALH, with the army accounting for the most — 96 ALHs and 75 armed versions called Rudra. The air force operates around 70 ALHs. The rest are operated by the navy and the coast guard.

“Temporary grounding of a fleet in such cases is absolutely in order. It’s essentially a precautionary move to ensure there is no recurrence,” said military aviation expert and former IAF vice chief Air Marshal KK Nohwar (retd).

Specialist teams of state-run aircraft maker Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), which has designed and produced the helicopters, are also involved in the ongoing safety checks, said a second official, who also asked not to be named.

“HAL had already initiated steps and is closely working with the customers to ensure that the helicopter fleets become fully operational,” an HAL spokesperson told HT on Saturday. A defence ministry spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.

ALH operations have been hit in the past too — the helicopters were grounded in 2006 following tail rotor problems, and later again in 2014 after a fatal crash.

The helicopter has been involved in a string of incidents in recent years, with a July 2014 crash that left its seven-member crew dead near Sitapur in Uttar Pradesh being one of the worst crashes involving the India-built helicopter. That helicopter had logged only two hours of flying after being serviced at Bareilly.

In another incident, former Northern Army commander Lieutenant General Ranbir Singh and eight others were injured in an ALH crash in the Poonch sector in October 2019.

The navy ALH, which was on a routine flying mission off Mumbai, experienced “a sudden loss of power and rapid loss of height” following which the pilot carried out controlled ditching into the water, the navy said on March 8. The three aircrew exited the helicopter safely and were recovered in a swift rescue operation. The chopper, which deployed its emergency flotation gear, was salvaged in one piece.

The grounding of the ALH comes at a time when HAL is looking at tapping the export potential of the chopper. It is currently in talks with the Philippines for a possible order. In 2015, Ecuador unilaterally terminated a contract with HAL after four of the seven ALHs it had bought from the Indian firm were involved in crashes.

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