UK investigates cause of non-fatal Merlin helicopter crash

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The UK Royal Air Force has convened a service inquiry to investigate the cause of a non-fatal accident involving one of its AgustaWestland AW101 Merlin HC3 transport helicopters.

The first incident of its kind since the RAF introduced the Merlin into service early this decade, the crash happened during a pre-deployment training exercise for operations in Afghanistan conducted at the US Navy's El Centro training facility near San Diego, California.

"A Merlin helicopter was damaged after a hard landing during a night flying sortie on 9 November," says the RAF. "Three crew members sustained minor injuries, and the condition of the airframe is being assessed."

One local media report said 12 people were aboard the aircraft when the accident happened, with a photograph showing the Merlin lying on its side largely intact, but with its main and tail rotor blades having separated.

The RAF has 22 Merlin HC3s, including the one damaged in the mishap, plus six HC3A-standard transports acquired from the Royal Danish Air Force.

 
© Craig Hoyle/Flight International
The Merlin HC3 (left) will join the RAF's Chinooks in Afghanistan

Several HC3s will enter frontline use in Afghanistan in the next few weeks. The 15t-class support helicopters will augment the RAF's current deployed complement of eight Boeing CH-47D Chinook HC2/2As. The service says the Merlin accident "will not affect the number we are sending to theatre".