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Army 'needs' new choppers after horror rescue mission

THAILAND: The Thai army is pushing for the next government to buy more than 30 new helicopters to reinforce its dwindling and obsolete fleet following three horrific crashes this month.

Thursday 28 July 2011, 05:03AM

The planned acquisition is part of the army’s programme to replace its Bell HU-1 “Huey” helicopters which have been in use for more than three decades.

But questions are being asked as to whether the army could afford to maintain any new helicopters, with suggestions that the three army helicopters that crashed on the Thai-Burmese border in Phetchaburi last week were ill-equipped and poorly maintained.

The three helicopters crashed in Kaeng Krachan National Park, claiming a total of 17 lives over a period of nine days.

The first crash on July 16 happened in bad weather and poor visibility, killing five people.

A UH-60L Black Hawk was then sent to recover the bodies, but it too went down in bad weather, killing all nine people on board, including an army officer and a television news cameraman.

A Bell 212 then successfully recovered those nine bodies on July 24, but crashed after completing its mission, killing three and injuring one.

Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha said he will propose the helicopter purchase plan, which will include included 36 new Bell 212 helicopters, to the new government when it takes office.

The army developed a programme to replace the old Huey fleet several years ago, but the Democrat-led government said it did not have the money to fund the purchase plan, Gen Prayuth said.

In the meantime, the army has grounded all 20 of its Bell-212 helicopters to undergo examination.



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