Deadly crash turns spotlight on old military helicopters

YUSUF ZIYA DURMUŞ
ISTANBUL
Published 13.02.2019 00:21

A lethal crash in Istanbul on Monday evening raised questions on the airworthiness of the UH-1, an American-made military helicopter that has been in the use by Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) for decades. Four military officers were killed when the helicopter crashed in city's Çekmeköy district during a forced landing. An investigation is underway on the cause of the crash that came a few months after another UH-1 military helicopter crashed in Sancaktepe, a district near Çekmeköy. Both helicopters had taken off from the same military base, which serves as the main helicopter unit of the Turkish army in Istanbul.

The TSK reportedly has 126 UH-1 helicopters and plans to discontinue their use in 2020. Media outlets report that the military base would be relocated outside Istanbul, far from residential areas. Like in the Sancaktepe crash, the staff of the helicopter that crashed in Çekmeköy managed to prevent it from crashing on buildings. Military bases near residential areas have long been a concern and after the 2016 coup attempt that saw putschists commanding tanks in downtown areas; the government has ordered the relocation of a number of military bases, including those in Istanbul, far from city centers.

The UH-1 helicopters, first built by U.S.-based Bell in the 1950s, were first used during the Vietnam war and the United States continued to use them until 2004. However, armies in more than 60 countries still employ the helicopter, which is used to transport troops and for evacuations of civilians in conflict and disaster zones.

Since 2002, UH-1 helicopters have been involved in a number of crashes that killed 18 onboard them in Turkey. The causes of the crashes vary, but each has fueled a debate on how airworthy they are despite regular maintenance. Indeed, the helicopter that crashed in Çekmeköy was on a test flight after undergoing maintenance. Weather conditions were also clear in the area, save for mild winds. All of the staff onboard were experienced pilots and technicians who had flown UH-1s in multiple missions in Istanbul and other cities. UH-1s have been in use by the Turkish army since the 1980s, and no major accidents were reported until the crashes between 2002 and 2019.

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