01 April 2005

Daily Ireland

Chopper controversy

The British army has come under fresh pressure to close a number of hi-tech spy posts and military bases along the Border.

The call from local residents came after the crew of a British army helicopter was forced to abandon a flight at a mountaintop installation in South Armagh yesterday.
The British army claimed the flight was aborted as a precaution after a mail bag “blew” into the tail rotor of the Lynx chopper while it sat on the helipad at Sturgan Mountain near Camlough but locals say the chopper experienced a mechanical fault mid-flight and was forced to divert to the landing site.
Brian Finnegan from the South Armagh Demilitarisation Committee said the incident highlights the fears experienced by local people and called on the British army to leave the area.
“Regardless of what the army says this helicopter was travelling over Camlough Lake when the noise of its engine changed. Local people say it was clearly in trouble and it diverted to Sturgan Mountain. To get there it had to fly over people’s homes and if it had gone wrong there would have been a disaster.
“People are rightly worried about this. It’s long past time they were gone,” he said.
“They are serving no purpose in the world. They are under no threat from the community. But they threaten people by flying around in these machines. These facilities need to go. We don’t know the extent of the damage they are causing to the countryside or the radiation they emit is causing to people in the area.
“This situation puts a lot of stress on people. People around the country are not aware of the torture being experienced by people living along the Border. Helicopters coming and going all day and night.”
A spokesman for the British army claimed the downed chopper was not forced to land.
“We can confirm that a postbag was believed to have been caught in a tail rotor of an army Lynx helicopter when it was sat on the helipad on Sturgan Mountain near Camlough, South Armagh,” said the spokesman.
“The helicopter had landed and still had its engine running when the bag was caught in the updraft. As a standard operating procedure the pilot turned the engines off and a technician was flown to the site to inspect the aircraft.
“The aircraft was completely undamaged and a couple of hours later flew to Bessbrook. No one was hurt in the incident.
“This was categorically not a crash or forced landing.”
Sinn Féin Assembly member for Newry & Armagh Conor Murphy called for all British army helicopters to be grounded until the cause of the mechanical fault is discovered.
“There have been serious concerns expressed over a number of years about the safety record of British military equipment in South Armagh,” Mr Murphy said. “There is no purpose to the continuing low-level flights in the area and no purpose behind the ongoing presence of British spy posts on our hillsides. Given the nature of this very serious incident this morning I am demanding that all British military helicopters in this area are immediately grounded.”
Yesterday’s incident was the second involving a Lynx helicopter in just over a year.
Last March a similar aircraft was forced to ditch on a beach at Portrush after experiencing mechanical difficulties. All crew escaped unhurt. In December 2003 a British army Gazelle helicopter crashed at playing fields in Derry City with the loss of two crew.

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