Thursday, March 20, 2014

Ecuador: Government Suspends Use of Indian-Built Dhruv Helicopters

According to India's, the Ecuadorian Armed Forces purchased seven Indian-built Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for a total of US$45 million.

The HAL Dhruv went into service in 2002. Several years ago, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) sold seven Dhruvs to the Ecuadorian Armed Forces (EAF) for a total sum of 45 million dollars. 
  • In November 2005, a Dhruv crash-landed in Andhra Pradesh, causing the entire fleet to be grounded. The subsequent probe found a fault with the helicopter's tail rotor blades, which has since been corrected;
  • On February 2007, a HAL Dhruv of the Sarang helicopter of the exhibition team of the Indian Air Force crashed, killing co-pilot Squadron Leader Priye Sharma and wounding the pilot, Wing Commander Vikas Jetley. After being in a coma for almost four years, Vikas Jetley died in January 2011;
  • In October 2009, an EAF Dhruv flew into terrain while attempting formation flight with two other helicopters close to an EAF near Quito. Air Force General Leonardo Barreiro said that the helicopter had been destroyed in the crash. The remaining six aircraft were grounded during the investigation, which later concluded pilot error to be the cause;
  • In February 2010, an Indian Air Force Dhruv was forced to make a crash landing after suffering a loss of power while rehearsing for the "Vayu Shakti" air power show; both pilots survived;
  • On April 21, 2011, four army personnel were killed when a Dhruv crashed in north Sikkim;
  • On October 19, 2011, an Indian Border Security Force (BSF) Dhruv crashed in north-east India, resulting in the deaths of the three crew on board. Immediately following the crash, the remaining five Dhruvs of the CRPF were grounded;
  • On January 15, 2012, a BSF Dhruv crashed onto the runway at Raipur Airport during a test flight. There were no fatalities, but all five of the crew members were injured; and
  • On February 21, 2014, an Ecuadorian Air Force (EAF) Dhruv often used as a presidential transport, crashed in the region of Chimborazo. The pilot, Capt. Fabian Pazos Narvaez survived, but three military passengers of the chopper were killed:

COMMENT: As a result of the February 21, 2014 crash, the Ecuadorian government suspended the use of the remaining Dhruvs.

It has been my experience, based upon protecting VIPs worldwide, that confidence in the safety and security of helicopters used for the transportation of heads of state and other senior VIPs is the most important evaluation factor.

Considering that two of seven Dhruvs have crashed, it seems appropriate considering that a presidential pilot died in the crash, that HAL provide the EAF maximum support in assessing the quality control of the Dhruv, considering that the helicopter is also used for transporting President Correa.

Although it is understood that the 2009 crash involved pilot error, it seems appropriate that both HAL and an independent helicopter evaluator retained by the EAF conduct identical crash assessments to determine the actual cause of a crash that killed three EAF personnel.