On 7 November 2007, a Romanian Air Force IAR-330 SOCAT attack helicopter belonging to the 90th Airlift Base crashed in Ungheni, 30 km south of Piteşti, Argeş county, southern Romania. Immediately after touching the ground, the aircraft exploded, as it was already on fire. All three crew members aboard were killed, including Commander Nicolae Bucur, who was one of the most experienced pilots of the Romanian Air Force, with over 2,700 flying hours. The other two victims were Lt. Ionel Craiu, pilot and Alexandru Adrian Ticea, mechanic.
The helicopter was unarmed, performing a night training flight at the moment of the crash. Eye-witnesses declared that smoke came out from the helicopter before the crash. On November 8, the flight recorder of the aircraft was recovered and officials declared that further information and conclusions will be available after 30 days.
Approximately 10 minutes after the crash, the first firefighters detachment from the Inspectorate for Emergency situations arrived at the scene and was confronted with 15 meters-tall flames. Paramedics arrived almost at the same time, but where unable to intervene because of the heavy fire. Also, the 90th Airlift Base assigned two additional helicopters for search and rescue. The fire was stopped after one hour and the forensics officers started their search.
Teodor Meleşcanu, the Romanian Minister of Defense, announced on November 9, 2007, that the entire IAR-330 Puma SOCAT attack helicopter fleet will be grounded until the results of the investigation are available. The first results of the investigation were made public after 30 days by the special commission assigned by the minister. He also declared that the helicopter crashed had been completely checked, and all safety procedures were followed accordingly before the flight. The SOCAT fleet became operational again in late-November 2007, when the first preliminary reports of the investigation were available.
The preliminary results of the investigations were available two weeks after the crash. According to them, the helicopter crashed due to an engine failure, which might have been caused by ice formations on the rotor blades.
The final results of the investigations came out on February 25, 2008, stating that the helicopter crashed due to an unrequested full engine stop. Reportedly, both engines failed and stopped when ice previously formed on the ship's exterior melted and was absorbed through the air admission system. This happened due to changing weather conditions, after the pilot unknowingly entered an area with sleet and snowfall. Moreover, Pro TV reports that, according to the conclusions of the investigations, had the ship been equipped with weather radar avionics, the accident could have been avoided. As a result of this, a decision was taken to ground on unfavourable weather conditions all Romanian Air Force helicopters without a weather radar.
24 IAR-330 Puma SOCAT helicopters have been modernized by the Romanian Aviation Industry in cooperation with Elbit Systems (Israel) for attack missions. The Romanian MoD spent over 60 million dollars on this program, which ended during early-2005, when the last modernized SOCAT helicopter entered service. However, it remains unclear if the modernization of the IAR 330 Puma's was the best choice for the Romanian attack helicopter fleet, as this aircraft crashed only two years after its modernization. Also, before its modernization, the helicopter in case, which was produced in 1983, had about 1,400 flying hours without any incidents.
The SOCAT fleet became operational again just one day before the National Day of Romania, in which Puma helicopters were scheduled to take part at the military parade. According to the MoD regulations, a type of aircraft should stay grounded after a crash until preliminary results of the investigation are available. Since the authorities were facing the National Day as a deadline, the accuracy of the investigation is questionable.
- ↑ (English) Air Forces Monthly, January 2008 issue.
- ↑ (Romanian) "Elicopter prăbuşit într-o localitate din Argeş: trei victime", at Ziare.ro, November 8, 2007
- ↑ (Romanian) Helicopter crashed near Pitesti killing three people aboard, Antena 3, November 7, 2007.
- ↑ (English) Investigators Find Black Box Of Helicopter Crashed In Central Romania, Mediafax, November 8, 2007.
- ↑ (Romanian) Helicopter crashed in Argeş County, Mediafax, November 7, 2007.
- ↑ (Romanian) The Puma SOCAT helicopter fleet is grounded, Ziua, November 9, 2007.
- ↑ 7.0 7.1 (Romanian) Investigations on the helicopter crashed in Ungheni, Pro TV, November 19, 2007.
- ↑ (Romanian) Official press release from the Romanian Ministry of National Defense. On the English version of the site, this press release is missing. Accessed 2009-05-02. Archived 2009-05-18.
- ↑ (Romanian) Final results on Ungheni IAR 330 crash investigation, Pro TV, February 25, 2008. Retrieved on May 5th, 2009. Archived 2009-05-18.
- ↑ (Romanian) AeroNautic magazine, June 2007 issue, pp.40.
- ↑ (Romanian) Flying coffins with blades - Puma modernized helicopters, Gândul, 9 November 2007.
- ↑ (Romanian) Dangerous Puma's parading on 1st December, Gardianul, 30 November 2007.
- Official site of the Romanian Air Force
- Official site of the Romanian Ministry of National Defense (MoND)
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