US manufacturer of fallen helicopter to assist investigation

By Viet Tuan, Son Ha, Ngoc Truong, Le Tan   April 6, 2023 | 07:55 am PT
US manufacturer of fallen helicopter to assist investigation
Divers look for victims of a helicopter crash in sea regions between Hai Phong and Quang Ninh, April 6, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Do Phuong
The manufacturer of the Bell helicopter that crashed in Vietnam on Wednesday has offered to help root out the cause of the accident.

Ho Minh Tan, deputy head of the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam (CAAV), said the Authority had received a letter from the manufacturer of the Bell helicopter, co-signed by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, asking to help with investigations into the cause of the accident at sea near Ha Long Bay.

The helicopter took off from Tuan Chau Island at around 4:56 p.m. Wednesday for a 10-minute sightseeing flight over Ha Long Bay. However, ground contact was lost at 5:06 p.m., and locals reported that the helicopter crashed into the sea at around 5:25 p.m.

The Bell-505 helicopter was manufactured by U.S. firm Bell Helicopter. It had been approved for use by aviation authorities in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Vietnam.

The CAAV has deemed the helicopter crash a "high-level accident", prompting a request for the government to assist in an investigation into the cause of the crash.

The aircraft’s owner, the state-run Northern Vietnam Helicopter Company, reported that the helicopter had logged a total of 488 flight hours and had been frequently maintained.

"Pilot Chu Quang Minh had approval to fly commercial aircraft through June 2026," said Tan, adding that when the accident happened, weather conditions were good and the pilot should have been able to fly the vessel using eyesight.

Nguyen Tan Cuong, chief of the general staff of the Vietnam People's Army and deputy minister of defense, said the pilot tried his best to take the aircraft to safety once the problem started. However, things happened too fast, he added.

So far, the bodies of four out of five victims of the crash have been found, including the pilot. The remains of the helicopter have also been recovered.

Last birthday

The trip was part of a birthday party gift for Ho Ta Luc. His wife, sister and a friend had organized the adventure to see Ha Long Bay from above.

Luc, 59 and his wife Nguyen Thi Hoi, 60 are survived by two daughters and a son. Their family members cleaned up the living room of their home on Ton Dan Street of Da Nang on Thursday, ready to receive the remains of Luc and Hoi back home.

On Wednesday noon, a group of seven people, including Luc, Hoi and other family members, flew from Da Nang to Quang Ninh. But at 6 p.m. the same day, their family in Da Nang received news that the group of four had gone down with the helicopter in Ha Long Bay.

Nguyen Cao Cuong, Luc's son-in-law, said the family had initially decided against the helicopter ride, but changed their minds at the last minute.

"When she got on the helicopter, my mother-in-law (Hoi) said she had flown on planes many times, and this would be her last ride," he said.

When time had passed and people had not returned from the helicopter trip, Cuong called customer support and received news that the helicopter was out of contact.

Vu Van Truong, 22, was fishing near Hon Dep Island about 500 m away from the crash site, said the helicopter circled around a rocky mountain twice before plunging into the sea and exploding.

"Fragments flew everywhere. People floated up at first before sinking back down," he said, adding that he called for nearby fishermen to rescue the victims. They managed to retrieve Luc at first, but he already stopped breathing.

At around 8 p.m., Hoi's body was found, followed by the body of pilot Minh. The fourth victim was found Thursday morning. All the victims were found in sea regions around Hon Dep Island.

Around 300 people from multiple rescue units are now looking for the last victim of the crash. All helicopter sightseeing trips in Vietnam have been suspended following the incident.

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