Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What Happened To The Dhruv In Ecuador?

The two Ecuadorian helicopter pilots Luis Armas and Ivan Abril who walked away almost unscathed from the dramatic crash of their Dhruv helicopter have been treated for minor injuries, and are to be discharged in a few days from a military hospital in Quito. They had a closer call than most do in helicopter accidents of this kind. While a very serious inquiry now stares HAL uncomfortably in the face, one fact is undeniable. The accident, like a previous one in November 2005 in which all six on board survived, establishes once again the remarkable crashworthiness of the ALH Dhruv. But that's not the point here. What's important is what went wrong at Quito's Mariscal Sucre airport. The facts as we know them right now are bare, notwithstanding the ready affirmation by Ecuadorian air force chief General Rodrigo Bohorquez, that the crash had taken place as a result of pilot error. Strangely, even Ecuador's defence minister Javier Ponce said in an interview to a local newspaper that all prima facie indications were that the pilot had "excessively manoeuvered" the chopper, leading to the accident. For starters, the helicopter is not serviceable -- it is beyond repair. It was the one of three Dhruvs flying in an arrow-head formation. Here's what we know so far, for the record:
  • Eyewitnesses, including some journalists, have testified to the Board of Inquiry that they saw a fire break out near the Dhruv's tail stem, after which the helicopter rolled abruptly to port 60-degrees and began losing altitude. At this point, the helicopter was about 300-metres from the airport's hangar area.
  • Ecuador's air chief General Rodrigo Bohorquez has been quoted as saying that the accident occured "because the turn was very long" and that the pilot "oversteered" the helicopter.
  • The pilot Luis Armas, who has 197 hours logged on the Dhruv, was trained in India in December 2008. Co-pilot Ivan Abril has logged 107 hours on the Dhruv so far.
  • According to an HAL official in Ecuador who spoke to me off the record, a few Ecuadorian newspapers have begun running opinion pieces questioning the Dhruv purchase from India. Some report that HAL was initially disqualified for not meeting certain technical requirements of Ecuador's air force. However, when General Rodrigo Bohorquez took charge of the service shortly thereafter, the decision was reportedly reversed despite the fact that the country's audit regulator had reportedly ordered the competition to be declared void and re-tendered, as the Dhruv had not met technical and financial requirements. They same reports suggest that the Indian government, through the Indian Ambassador in Quito, struck a deal with the country to be the launch customer in Latin America for the helicopter. The implicit suggestion in these reports appears to be that the Dhruv was unfairly chosen, and under the use of influence.
  • Both the air chief and defence minister of the country have said on record that the helicopters have been observed to have no technical faults.
  • The ten-member HAL team in Quito is assisting the Accident Investigation Board. HAL may send more engineers from its Rotory Wing Complex in Bangalore to Quito to assist the investigation.
Stay tuned for updates on the crash. I'm expecting more details shortly.


Anonymous said...

shiv, i watched your report about the dhruv accident on your channel this evening. i must commend you for a highly professional commentary and on that does not sensationalise the unfortunate accident. you have taken the pains to bring out all the known facts and have not speculated on it, which is highly professional on your part. hope to see more such reportage from our indian media friends.

Anonymous said...


Your dedication to your work is inspirational.

Keep up the great work

Anonymous said...

not sure i understand what "off the record" means here

Anonymous said...

exactly.. i mean.. how many HAL officials would be there in ecuador?

Murali said...

None of the photos show any kind of fire.. If there was fire.. there had to be smoke atleast a little..

none of pics or video show any kind of smoke (before crash)

how can a fire that broke be doused so quickly ? besides with so much fuel surprised to see not much of fire even after crash specially if there was fire prior to crash.

Thanks for your post!!! I just hope it is not something with the bird.

also hope that HAL reacts in most professional manner & by the book..

On the flip side.. 2 Crashes no loss of human life.. Itself is a new Push "Even if it falls, you walk"


Kartik said...

The fire bit is total nonsense. there are some very good clarity pics available of the Dhruv's final moments and there is not the least bit of fire, and absolutely no smoke whatsoever. It looks more likely that the pilots lost control while maneuvering. it is clearly visible in the pics below, so the hogwash about a fire having started on the tail can be debunked.

Anonymous said...

More than one. There is a whole team of HAL technicians in Equador who are charged with providing support

Anonymous said...

Dhruv did not catch fire or explode upon crash. The pilots safely came out. That shows the safety of Dhruv.

Anonymous said...

This speculation in the Ecudorean media is expected.

India must launch a PR exercise in Latin America as a whole to counter any suggestions that the machine itself is at fault in any way. Some of the things that need to be highlighted are:
1. The helicopter is an above average performer with an excellent safety record, and with large numbers in service with the Indian, Nepalese, Israeli armed forces and state governments in India.
2. The record of high altitude set in Siachen must be highlighted.
3. Any references to corruption in the deal must be quashed aggressively, by mentioning the government to government nature of the deal, and the fact that the HAL is a government owned organization.

India needs to reach out to the Ecuadorean media houses and PR savvy individuals must go there and openly discuss the issues at hand.

Anonymous said...

It's no small achievement to build a chopper that can crash and still keep it's crew safe. Hooray! That's one thing we can celebrate about "Made In India" design.

Looks like the Ecuadorian pilots need more training. Send them back to Bangalore, I say.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, this is typical HAL build quality. You can now understand why IAF desperately wants to buy foreign aircrafts.

Anonymous said...

Shiv, there is no fire prior to impact. It can be seen from the video. Only after impact the first fire appears. The ones in the Ecuadorian media questioning the deal will have vested interests including influences from other competitors in the deal. The Dhruv is the best in its class and if it has been another helicopter, not only the pilots but many in the parade must have lost their lives.

Karupaswamy said...

How can an helicopter be "excessively maneuvered" why would the systems allow such a maneuver? if the pilot tries to take such a sharp/long trun should not control system now know its limitation and restrict the maneuver?

Rahul said...

There's a Team of HAL looking after maintainability of Dhruvs in Ecuador.
It's really a set back for HAL and Dhruv, especially when Ecuador was evaluating options for buying more Dhruvs. Sad indeed.

Mayuresh Gaikwad said...

Annonymous @ 3:32,

It is due to the HAL's build quality that the two pilots walked away from the crash virtually unhurt.

And it is not as if there has been no coptor crash ever!

Anonymous said...

@ ''Karupaswamy''

the new Mercedes S-Class has all sorts of gizmos to prevent over and under-steering and to prevent any sort of collision. I work for a Mercedes-Benz dealership in Melbourne; and we have a wrecked S-Class coming in at least once a week; due to driver faults. Despite having supposedly..''foolproof'' systems. Bottomline is these help in reducing chances of crashes but not eliminate them.

Anonymous said...

The Dhruv is the best of its class known for the manovreability appluaded by several pilots. However there are limitations for every flying machine ,which would definitely would definitely be present in the flight manual.May be the excitement of flying Dhruv made the pilots manovre more than the limits.

Anonymous said...

Dhruv ,congratulations,the True Indian .protected the dependents(pilots &crowd)even when you perished.