The Royal Thai Army’s (RTA) Third Army Region has grounded its fleet of eight Bell helicopters, following a fatal crash involving one of its rotorcraft in northern Thailand.
On 17 November, a Bell 212 Twin Huey helicopter reportedly exploded in mid-air, after take-off from an army camp in Phayao province and crash-landed in the Muang district, killing all nine personnel, who were on a logistical mission.
Those on the flight included five army officers, including deputy Third Army Region commander major general Songpol Thongjeen, and four crew members.
3rd Army area spokesperson major-general Tana Jaruwat was quoted by The Nation as saying that all helicopters in the unit will undergo aviation safety checks at RTA’s Aviation Centre in Lop Buri province.
"We have imposed a temporary helicopter flight suspension," Jaruwat said.
However, RTA deputy spokesperson colonel Sirichan Ngathong said that the army will continue to operate both the Bell 212 and UH-1 Huey helicopters for missions across the country.
"I insist that the army still uses Bell 212 helicopters for its missions as normal. There has not been a general order to ground them," Ngathong said.
The Third Army Region currently operates three Bell 212 and five UH-1 Iroquois twin-engine aircraft.
A relative of one crash victim revealed that concerns about the age of the helicopter had been expressed a few days before the accident.
However, 4th Infantry Division commander major general Nopporn Ruenjan told the Bangkok Post that the helicopter was maintained properly, with parts regularly replaced.
The Thai Army currently operates 40 Bell 212s and UH-1 Iroquois copters.
Initial reports suggest that the helicopter developed engine trouble, although an investigation is underway.
In 2011, the RTA grounded its Bell 212 fleet after three different models crashed over a two-week period, killing 17 people.