Sikorsky down

 

On Thursday 15 June 2007, only a few days after its maiden flight, the recently restored Sikorsky-Sud HSS-1 B-4/OT-ZKD crashed at Koksijde Air Base. The helicopter encountered technical problems when performing a pleasure flight on behalf of some of the sponsors of the restoration work. During the subsequent autorotation landing, the Sikorsky crashed into a parked military vehicle and both helicopter and car caught fire immediately. Three people sustained severe injuries, while seven others were slightly wounded. Many bystanders were in shock.

 

This, of course, is not a real story. Sikorsky-Sud HSS-1 has not been restored to airworthy conditions and there were neither pleasure flights, nor a fatal crash. The story was just a realistic scenario for the post crash management exercise that was organised at Koksijde Air Base that day in preparation of the Defence Days occurring there during the weekend of 30 June and 1 July.

 Air shows must be spectacular, air shows must be fun, but air shows must be most of all safe for pilots and public. Organisers of air events take a wide range of precautionary measures to prevent all thinkable incidents and accidents that could harm participants or public. Moreover, a strict set of rules has been elaborated for display pilots and at every air show a Display Director and a Flight Safety Committee monitor their rigid observation. In case the unexpected should happen after all, the organisers will do their utmost to minimise the consequences by applying a well-considered and regularly practiced emergency plan.

 The emergency plan of Koksijde Air Base was practised during the post crash management exercise of 15 June 2007. The aim of the exercise was to test the readiness of all military and civilian services involved in such post crash interventions. To limit the scale of implication of civilian intervention teams, the scenario called for a Category 2 incident with no more than ten casualties, since a Category 1 incident with more than ten victims would require mobilisation of all Medical Urgency Groups and Red Cross and Civil Defence teams of the entire province. Critical readiness items under scrutiny were communication means of the command chain, communication means between military and civilian rescue services, the procedures of the post crash management plan and its correct implementation as well as the training level of all involved personnel.

 

The scene of the accident: Sikorsky-Sud HSS-1 B-4 crashed into a military vehicle on a car park and caught fire.

  

As soon as the fire is extinguished, rescue teams start to free the injured occupants from the helicopter and the car.

 

 Pending evacuation, the first freed victims receive medical attention upwind and at a safe distance from the crash site. The fire brigade keeps an eye on the scene in case the fire should flare up.

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 That precaution, contingency planning and post crash management are no superfluous measures was illustrated during the Open Days of the Koninklijke Luchtmacht at Volkel Air Base, the Netherlands, on 15 and 16 June 2007. On 15 June, a Lockheed Martin F-16AM jet suffered a birdstrike during take-off. The contingency plan worked perfectly well. The air base was closed for all operations other than those in connection with the aircraft in distress and after dropping its wing tanks, the pilot managed to land his damaged F-16 safely.

 The next day, another F-16AM made a precautionary landing. It was during the early phases of his F-16 solo display that Commandant Michaël “Mickey” Artiges stated anomalies in the performance of the Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-220E engine powering his aircraft. Although the anomalies were minor, breaking off his display in front of a large crowd proved the high level of professional airmanship of the Belgian pilot, who rightly judged air safety more important than prestige. 

 

The broken off Belgian F-16 solo display was compensated largely by one of the last displays of the very last airworthy Fouga CM.170R Magister of the Belgian Air Component. The aircraft carried appropriate titles on the topside of the wings and a farewell zap on the port side of the fuselage underneath the cockpit.

Text and pictures by

© Jos Schoofs (June 2006)

Last updated 20/06/07 14:55   Daniel Brackx

brackda@gmail.com