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Tuesday, August 10, 1999 Published at 02:09 GMT 03:09 UK


Chinook safety probe launched

The Ministry of Defence and the US Army are carrying out checks

Hundreds of Chinook helicopters have been grounded across the world following the discovery of a crack in the gear of a British aircraft.

The BBC's Leon Hawthorne: "A major inconvenience for the military"
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) "ceased flying" its fleet after the fault was spotted in one of its helicopters during a routine overhaul.

More than 30 Chinooks currently in operation in the Falklands, Bosnia and Kosovo were immediately withdrawn from service.

The US Army also grounded all 466 of its Chinooks, which are made by Boeing, so that safety checks could be carried out.

[ image: The Chinook is a military workhorse]
The Chinook is a military workhorse
An MoD spokesman said: "We are taking sensible precautions and checking out the fleet.

"There is nothing to suggest a significant problem, but we take flight safety seriously so there will be an investigation."

Boeing spokesman Jack Satterfield said that all Chinook operators had been informed.

He said: "It is obviously a major inconvenience but I think flight accidents are far more inconvenient.

"It is appropriate to take all due safety precautions in a case like this to ensure that the aircraft are properly fitted with fully functional components and that they can return to flight as quickly as possible."

History of accidents

The Boeing Chinook has had a mixed history.

It was first built in 1961, and its ability to carry up to 50 people made it a favourite of the North Sea oil industry.

It has also gathered a reputation as a military workhorse, but has been involved in a number of accidents.

An RAF Chinook crashed on the Mull of Kintyre in June 1994, killing all 29 passengers and crew.

[ image: Twenty nine people died when a Chinook helicopter crashed on the Mull of Kintyre in 1994]
Twenty nine people died when a Chinook helicopter crashed on the Mull of Kintyre in 1994
An RAF board of inquiry concluded that the two pilots were guilty of "gross negligence" in crashing their helicopter into the cloud-covered hillside during a flight carrying 25 senior members of Northern Ireland's intelligence community to a security conference in Inverness.

Claims persist though, that there may have been technical problems, and that there was concern over a new engine computer system which had just been installed in the helicopter.

Mike Tapper, the father of one of the pilots who died, said: "It is very alarming and will clearly have to be looked into very carefully indeed.

"Over the last four years we have drawn attention to the deficiencies of the Chinook, particularly the computerised engine control system, so this comes as no surprise at all to us.".

Boeing says there is no evidence of a link between any previous crashes and the fault which is currently being investigated.

Troubled history

There have been several other accidents involving Chinook helicopters.

The BBC's Andrew Shaw reports on the reasons behind the withdrawal
In November 1986, a Chinook carrying oil workers from the Brent Field crashed off the Shetlands, killing 45 men when its rotors collided after gearbox modifications.

A Chinook accident in the Falklands claimed three lives in 1986, when one crashed into a mountain in a blizzard, and seven more the following year, when a helicopter crashed after take-off from Mount Pleasant airbase.

There were also at least 10 crashes of military Chinooks in America between 1985 and 1994.

Mike Tapper whose son died in a Chinook crash: 'It comes as no surprise'
Around 800 Chinook helicopters are thought to be in use by military forces around the world, in the US, Britain, Egypt, France, Greece and Singapore.

Their withdrawal from service is likely to have a major impact on military operations.

Aviation expert, Jim Ferguson, said: "When a huge chunk of your heavy lift capability goes, then you just have to wait and pray for the engineers to check all the Chinooks and give them a clean bill of health and the quicker the better."

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