THE Philippine Air Force (PAF) has grounded all its remaining Sokol multi-purpose helicopters after one of the choppers crashed in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur, shortly after take-off last Thursday.
Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Enrico Canaya on Friday said a grounding order was issued by the PAF commanding general immediately after the crash.
According to Canaya, inves–tigators were already in Marawi City and have started gathering information and pieces of evi–dence that would help determine the cause of the crash.
“We have an investigation. So pending result, we have to ground the Sokol helicopters,” he said.
Canaya assured that the grounding order would not affect airlifting capability and other operations of the Air Force because still has Huey helicopters, among other aircraft, in its fleet.
“We have UH 1H [Huey], we have 76, and other Hueys of the 505 Search and Rescue Group available,” he said.
The Sokol chopper went down the other day a few minutes after it took off from Camp Ranao in Marawi City.
On board were Maj. Gen. Ricardo Visaya, commander, 4th Infantry Division, a certain Col. Macario, four crew and five staff of Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin.
According to Visaya, the chop–per was some 50 meters above the ground when it malfunctioned and crashed.
“It was a wreck. It can’t be used anymore,” he said of the helicopter. “We are lucky because it did not explode upon impact on the ground.”
Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, chief of the AFP’s Public Affairs Office, said the chopper crashed at about 2:23 p.m. due to loss of control when strong winds struck the aircraft.
Zagala added that the chopper was supposed to serve as back-up for Gazmin who was aboard another Sokol helicopter together with Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas 2nd.
The aircraft was one of eight Sokol helicopters acquired for P3.441 billion by the Defense department from British-Italian firm Augusta Westland.
It is described as a state-of-the art attack helicopter, with night vision capability, equipped with advance weapons system.