The army denied a report yesterday that the US has pressured the military to keep quiet about what caused an AH-64E Apache attack helicopter to crash on Friday last week before an investigation into the accident is completed.
A report in the Chinese-language weekly magazine Want said the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) expressed concern about the accident and asked Taiwan’s military to say little about what the investigation was turning up.
The army denied the report and said the accident is being investigated by a task force that should release its findings in about 45 days.
The task force assembled by the Ministry of National Defense and the army includes US technicians and representatives from the Cabinet-level Aviation Safety Council.
It will determine whether the accident was caused by mechanical failure or human error, a sensitive issue because Taiwan would seek compensation from Boeing if mechanical failure were behind the crash.
Asked by the Central News Agency to confirm the report, AIT Public Diplomacy Section Chief Joseph Bookbinder said: “AIT has not told the Taiwan military how to conduct the accident investigation.”
“We do not comment or speculate on ongoing accident investigations,” he added.
The reputation of the AH-64E model could also be at stake because the US and Taiwan are currently the only two countries flying it.
A previous problem with the main transmission of an AH-64E Apache in the US forced Taiwan to ground its fleet to make the necessary repairs. Another mechanical flaw could hurt future sales of the aircraft.
The ill-fated helicopter, one of 18 delivered to Taiwan by the US over the past six months, was on a training flight on April 25 when it crashed into the top of a three-story residential building in Longtan Township (龍潭), Taoyuan County, damaging four homes.
Except for minor scratches, the two pilots were unhurt and there were no other serious injuries.
Shortly after the crash, the army grounded its other 17 Apaches.
Once it has been determined that the helicopters are safe for flight, they will be put back into service, Army Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Hao Yii-jy (郝以知) said.
The 18 helicopters, which arrived in three shipments from November last year to March, were part of an order of 30 helicopters purchased for about US$2 billion in a deal announced in 2008 under the administration of then-US president George W. Bush.
The remaining shipments of six helicopters apiece are expected to arrive in Taiwan this month and next month. It is not clear if the accident will affect the delivery schedule.
An army official said the military has reached an agreement with the owners of the four damaged houses to pay the full cost of repairing the residences.
It may cost an estimated NT$2 million (US$66,276) to repair the four damaged homes, the official said on condition of anonymity.
Flight instructor Major Chen Lung-chien (陳龍謙), one of the two pilots on board the helicopter that crashed, said that changes in humidity and temperature fogged up the cockpit windshield, forcing him to try to climb above the cloud ceiling, but even the helicopter’s night-vision features proved useless.
With no reference points in the clouds, Chen said he tried as best he could to keep the helicopter horizontal, but because of the poor visibility and low altitude, the aircraft crashed onto the building.
Chen and the other pilot, Lieutenant Colonel Liu Ming-hui (劉銘輝), have been resting at home and have been receiving counseling to help them recover from the incident, the army official said.
It is the second time that the Apaches have been grounded since Taiwan began taking delivery of the aircraft from the US in November last year.
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