Amid a heightened alert following the sinking of a naval vessel, a Navy helicopter carrying four crew members crashed off the country’s southwest coast, leaving one dead and three others missing, military officials said yesterday.
“We lost contact with a Lynx antisubmarine helicopter carrying four crew members while it was on a regular night patrol mission 14.5 kilometers off the southwest coast near Jindo on Thursday,” said Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesman Park Seong-woo. Jindo is a small island in the South Sea.
Its mission had nothing to do with the sunken ship Cheonan, he said.
Two Navy speedboats and 13 Coast Guard patrol ships were promptly dispatched to the area and yesterday found the body of Lieutenant Kwon Tae-ha strapped to the pilot’s seat and recovered parts of the wreckage.
“The Navy is still conducting search operations at the site,” JCS information and operations division chief Lee Ki-sik told reporters in a press briefing. A total of 30 ships and five helicopters engaged in the operation to search for the missing three late afternoon yesterday without any luck.
The Navy presumes that the helicopter crashed into the ocean due to drastic changes in the weather, ruling out the possibility of the airframe deterioration. The exact cause of the accident, however, is still open to conjecture.
Since its prototype took its maiden flight in 1971, the British-made Lynx helicopter has been widely used by the armed forces of a dozen nations, where it primarily serves in the battlefield utility, search and rescue, and antisubmarine warfare roles.
It is equipped with torpedoes and “dipping sonar” that can be lowered 300 meters into the water to detect submarines and minisubmarines. Two pilots and two sonar technicians are usually onboard the aircraft.
With full cruising speed of 234 kph and flight duration of two hours and 50 minutes, the helicopter was also used by the Navy’s counter-piracy Cheonghae unit in the Gulf of Aden off the Somali coast last year.
Since 1991, the Navy has introduced 25 of them, including 13 “Super Lynx” with improved rotors. But in 1993, one crashed near Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province, during a transport mission. The number has decreased to 23.
By Lee Ho-joon (email@example.com)