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Sunday, 17 March, 2002, 09:38 GMT
RAF inquiry into helicopter crash
Wreckage of the crashed army helicopter in south Armagh
Local residents want all RAF flights grounded
An investigation has begun into why a Royal Air Force Puma helicopter crashed onto a mountainside in Northern Ireland on Saturday.

Five soldiers and two civilians were injured, two of them seriously, when the helicopter was forced to land in on the side of a hill at Slieve Gullion near Jonesborough in south Armagh at 1035 GMT on Saturday.

There had been three crew members and six passengers on board.

Members of the RAF's board of inquiry flew into Northern Ireland on Saturday night and began their investigation on Sunday.

Local resident Declan Fearon
Declan Fearon: "There was pandemonium"

The helicopter, based at RAF Aldergrove in County Antrim, had been on a routine flight between security force bases in south Armagh.

RAF Squadron Leader of the Joint Helicopter Force in Northern Ireland, David Breese, said terrorist involvement had been ruled out but pledged a thorough investigation.

Eyewitnesses said it seemed to lose control and spiralled to the ground about 150 yards short of the watchtower.

Sinn Fein councillor Packie McDonald, who witnessed the crash, said: "The pilot tried to control it for a while but shortly after it just crashed on the side of the mountain about 150 yards from the look-out post."

Local resident Declan Fearon, who was one of the first people to reach the crash site, said: "There was pandemonium. The debris was spread over a large area.

"I passed the propeller on the way up the hill and when I got to the helicopter I saw the tail had broken off."

Michael McCann Emergency Physician Daisy Hill Hospital
Michael McCann: "Injured were suffering from fractures, back and chest injuries"

Some people were trapped in the helicopter's wreckage for more than two hours.

Army helicopters were used to transport emergency rescue teams to the crash site.

They took most of casualties to Daisy Hill hospital in nearby Newry, where an emergency procedure plan was put into place.

An emergency physician at the hospital, Michael McCann, said: "They were treated for a multiplicity of trauma injuries including spinal injuries, multiple fractures and chest injuries."

Residents' objections

Meanwhile, Tony Carragher from the South Armagh Farmers' and Residents Committee said all RAF helicopters should be grounded, following the crash.

Her group has been campaigning against the number of RAF helicopter flights in the area.

Speaking to BBC News Online she said: "We are now calling for a complete cessation of all British Army helicopter flights.

"This puma helicopter could have landed on homes and there could have been a major loss of life.

"The British Army called this a forced landing, which is what they always call them.

"If some of our group were not able to go up to the crash site and take photographs we believe there would have been a cover-up."

The BBC's Sean Killick
"Some of the injured were trapped in the wreckage for two hours"
See also:

16 Mar 02 | Northern Ireland
RAF helicopter crash lands
04 Mar 02 | Scotland
Chinook crash: Timeline
14 Feb 01 | Northern Ireland
Demilitarisation - the war of words
15 Oct 01 | Northern Ireland
Legal plan over helicopter noise
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