The timetable for the nation’s AH-64E Apache attack helicopters to become fully operational has not been affected by a chopper crash in northern Taiwan in April, an army official said yesterday.
“The Apaches will become operational in 2017” as scheduled, Major General Chen Chien-tsai (陳健財), deputy commander of the Republic of China Army Aviation Special Forces Command, said at a news conference to present the conclusions of the army’s investigation into the accident.
The chopper, one of 18 that have been delivered to Taiwan by the US since November last year, was on a training mission on April 25 when it crashed into the top of a three-story residential building in Taoyuan County’s Longtan Township (龍潭), damaging four homes, but causing no serious injuries.
Asked whether the incident had affected the delivery schedule of the other 12 Apaches to Taiwan, Chen said it had not.
The fourth batch of Apache helicopters is set to arrive in August, while the final batch is expected to be delivered in October, he said.
They are part of a NT$59.31 billion (US$2.01 billion) order for 30 of the latest Apache model.
The army said environmental factors and human error were found to be the main causes of the helicopter crash and that mechanical failure had been ruled out.
The aircraft was enveloped in cloud during a training mission at an altitude of 120 feet (36.6m) as the cloud ceiling dropped suddenly to below 200 feet, said Major General Huang Kuo-ming (黃國明), deputy inspector-general of the army.
This affected visibility and led to spatial disorientation of the pilot, Major Chen Lung-chien (陳龍謙), a flight instructor who was flying the helicopter at the time, Huang said.
However, he said Chen should have relied on his flight instruments to keep track of the aircraft’s altitude and direction.
Spatial disorientation refers to the inability of a person to determine his true body position, motion and altitude relative to the ground or his surroundings.
Chen and the other pilot on the ill-fated Apache, Lieutenant Colonel Liu Ming-hui (劉銘輝), have been suspended since the incident and have also been receiving counseling to help them recover from the incident, the army said.
They will be able to fly again after a series of evaluations, a process that could take up to six months, Chen said.
On the question of seeking compensation from the US since the Apache helicopter was still under its 18-month warranty, Huang said the ministry was studying that possibility.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, an army official said that although mechanical failure has been ruled out, the US may be seen as responsible for not training Taiwanese pilots properly on how to deal with sudden climate changes, like those that occurred on the day of the crash.
The US and Taiwan are the only two countries that use AH-64E Apache helicopters.