This dramatic image shows how close the UK Royal Navy came to losing one of its AgustaWestland EH101 Merlin HM1 multirole helicopters in a freak deck-handling incident in Istanbul on 14 May.
The Merlin was being repositioned on the deck of the RN’s Invincible-class aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious prior to a visit by the Queen when the vehicle towing it went over the side of the ship and fell into the water. Its driver was rescued, miraculously having escaped injury.
© Cem Dogut
One of six Merlins from the RN’s 814 NAS aboard the vessel, the aircraft came to a rest after hitting the safety netting around the ship’s deck, with its below-fuselage radome also having helped to slow its momentum. It is unclear what level of damage the Merlin sustained during the mishap, but this is not believed to be significant.
An investigation has been launched into cause of the accident, but a navy source says that some form of mechanical failure to the towing tractor is likely to be the initial focus of attention. The vehicle was swiftly recovered from the water and did not cause any pollution, the source adds.
A Task Group led by HMS Illustrious departed the UK in late January for a four-month deployment dubbed ‘Orion ’08’. This will include coalition operations in the Indian Ocean as part of a multinational force led by the RN.
Other aircraft embarked aboard the vessel earlier in the manoeuvres included BAE Systems Harrier GR9 ground-attack aircraft from the UK’s Joint Force Harrier, which were en route to support NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
The aircraft carrier departed Istanbul as scheduled on 18 May to continue its voyage.
The UK Ministry of Defence on 20 May confirmed its intention to launch the production phase of a project to build two Future Aircraft Carriers, to enter service in 2014 and 2016, respectively.
Involving leading companies including BAE, Thales UK and VT Group, the CVF programme has previously been estimated as worth around £3.9 billion ($7.67 billion).
Additional reporting by Craig Hoyle in London