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News 16 Mar 15

Serbia Probes Baby Rescue Helicopter Crash

Serbia’s health minister defended the decision to fly a sick baby to Belgrade for treatment after the military helicopter used for the mission crashed in heavy fog, killing seven people.

Gordana Andric
BIRN
Belgrade

 

Serbian Army chief Ljubisa Dikovic, defence minister Bratislav Gasic and President Tomislav Nikolic at a commemoration for the deceased army crew members on Sunday. | Photo by Beta

As investigations continued into the cause of the deadly crash, health minister Zlatibor Loncar said on Monday that it was necessary to fly the baby to Belgrade because the child needed to be treated in a larger and better-equipped health centre.

His statement came after the Serbian public and media raised questions about why the military helicopter that was evacuating the child from the southern region of Raska didn’t take the baby to a hospital in a nearer city, where the weather conditions might have been better for landing.

“Their [doctors’] assessment was that the child, five days old and three kilogrammes in weight, was in mortal danger and that help must be provided in some larger centre that has adequate conditions and staff,” Loncar told public broadcaster RTS.

Seven people, including four crew members, two medical workers and the five-day-old baby died when the army helicopter crashed near Belgrade civil Nikola Tesla Airport around 10.30pm on Friday night.

The Russian-made Mi-17 transport helicopter was carrying the baby with respiratory problems to the capital for treatment after an ambulance taking the child to hospital was blocked by a landslide.

Early reports suggested that the aircraft crashed due to heavy fog, while the defence ministry confirmed that the crew attempted to land twice before going off the radar and losing contact with the control tower.

The ministry announced that it has formed two separate commissions to investigate the causes of the crash and that the first results are to be expected on Wednesday this week.

In the meantime, military experts, the public and the media have raised numerous questions about the accident, including why the helicopter was ordered to fly in poor weather and why the crew was directed to land at the civil Nikola Tesla airport in Belgrade amid the fog, instead of at some other location.

Initially, the day after the crash, Predrag Bandic, the commander of the 204th Aviation Brigade, told reporters that an analysis of weather conditions had showed that the best conditions for landing were at Nikola Tesla.

But Bratislav Gasic, Serbia’s defence minister, said a day later that there was no answer to why this airport was chosen as a landing destination.

“The landing spot is the choice of flight control and the pilot himself. So far it is not clear why the pilot tried three times to land at Nikola Tesla airport when he had different options and alternatives,” Gasic said on Sunday.

The army also stated that the helicopter was in proper condition, and that the crew members were among the most the most experienced pilots in the army.

 

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