02 March 2009

Minister "shaken" as Door falls off Helicopter

An Irish Aer Corps helicopter, carrying a cabinet minister, was forced to make an emergency landing in Killarney, Co. Kerry, this afternoon after one of the aircraft's huge doors fell off in mid-air.

Martin Cullen (FF), the Minister for the Arts, Sport & Tourism (left), was in Killarney today to address the annual conference of the Irish Hotels' Federation.
Afterwards an AW 139 helicopter, one of the most modern in the Aer Corps, was ordered to fly him back to Dublin.
It took off from the grounds of the Malton Hotel with a three-man crew and two passengers: Minister Martin Cullen and one of his assistants. They both had boarded through the large door on the right side, which was then closed before the take-off.

But a few minutes later the helicopter's left door, which had not been used, fell suddenly off at a height of 150 metres and crashed into the Killarney National Park near Castlerosse.

The same helicopter had brought Martin Cullen this morning from his home in Waterford to Killarney without any problems.
After the incident it made an emergency landing at the nearest possible spot, the Killarney Golf & Fishing Club, where it still is now (photo above right).

Fortunately no one was injured in the incident, but witnesses say that Minister Cullen was "visibly shaken".

Eventually the minister, a man of slim built and rather small stature, continued his journey by road to Kerry Airport, from where a second AW 139, which was diverted from an Aer Corps training exercise in Cork, picked him up and flew him to Dublin.

In a statement the Irish Defence Forces declared the aircraft as grounded "until a Military Airworthiness Inspection Team and technicians from the Aer Corps HQ examine it". This team will fly to Kerry tomorrow to assess the helicopter and its condition. It will then be moved back to Casement Aerodrome, the Aer Corps' main base at Baldonnel near Dublin.

The Augusta-Westland AW 139, a modern multi-purpose helicopter with 15 seats, can fly with its doors open.
However, the Irish Aer Corps does it "only at certain speeds and when the aircraft works in military and winching roles".
Ireland is one of so far 18 countries that use this helicopter type in various service roles with their armed forces and other government departments. (The other countries are Australia, China, Estonia, India, Italy, Japan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Namibia, the Netherlands, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, South Korea, Spain, the United Arab Emirates and the USA.) There are no reports that anything like today's incident has ever happened with an AW 139 anywhere else.

The Emerald Islander

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