In a strange turn of events the ditch of a Spanish Air Force Aérospatiale (now Airbus Helicopters) AS332 Super Puma of the Moroccan coast has turned into a kidnap story, as Madrid fears the three crew members have been picked up and held hostage by pirates.
On Thursday the helicopter of 802 Squadron sent out a distress signal about 280 nautical miles south from its Gando base on the Canary Islands and 40 nautical miles southwest of Dakhla. It was on its way back from Dakar in Senegal. After making a fuel stop in Nouadhibou in Mauritania the chopper continued its flight home, when the crew apparently needed to ditch the aircraft into the sea.
A rescue helicopter spotted a perfectly okay life raft, but at that time were not able to determine if any crew members were inside. The latest theory is that a fishing boat manned by pirates have picked the Spanish military men up, while some other sources still think it is very much possible that the crew members did die inside their chopper when it hit the water.
Meanwhile Spanish and Moroccan forces keep on searching for the helicopter’s wreckage and crew’s whereabouts. Pirates are known to operate off the West African coast. The Spanish Air Force keeps at least one EF-18 fighter jet on stand-by.
Skies have become slightly more boring in Sweden, after the last Aérospatiale (currently Airbus Helicopters) AS332 Super Puma helicopter of the Swedish Armed Forces made its final landing on 22 October.
The last HKP 10 (Helikopter 10) – as the type was dubbed in Swedish military service – touched down on Linköping-Malmen Airbase, 27 years after the day in March 19888 when the first search-and-rescue variant took to the air at F21 Luleå-Kallax Airbase in the north of the country.
The dozen Super Pumas that Sweden ordered were delivered up till 1995, replace the aging HKP 4 (CH-46 Sea Knight) as SAR chopper. Troop transport and medevac were roles later added. More recently three of the Swedish Armed Forces even served in Afghanistan for a period of two years in the latter role. The last serious operational missions were flown by two machines in August this year, when they supported the big Army Exercise 15 (AÖ15), and last week during Exercise Jämtgubben HKP10 with number 97 took part in a real exercise scenario.
For the number freaks: the choppers together made 71,000 flight hours, using 44.5 million litres of fuel. During the service period three of the 12 helicopters were written off due to accidents. Of the remaining nine machines, six are now stored in Linköping offered for sale. Two other machines will go to museums while the ninth aircraft will be used for technical education.
The role of the HKP10 is now resting on the shoulders of the plagued NHIndustries NH90, named HKP 14 in Swedish Armed Forces service. Of the 18 machines Sweden hopes to have in 2019, ten have now been delivered. Half of the current fleet flies with the Helicopter Squadron at Luleå in the far north, the other half with the chopper unit at Ronneby in the far south.
Since deliveries and operational availability were very problematic the Swedish government ordered 15 Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawk choppers in 2011, which were quickly delivered and which will stay operational as the country’s defence and political leadership seems to be very happy with their availability.
UPDATED 28 APRIL 2015 | The strong earthquake that hit Nepal on 25 April 2015, with 7.8 on the Richter scale the country’s strongest in 80 years, has had nations scramble their resources to come to the rescue of the Himalayan state. Several countries have put part of their air forces on alert to dispatch aid and rescue / recovery teams to the areas hit.
As expected other Asian nations have responded fairly fast. According to sources in New Delhi the Indian Air Force have directed a pair of its ten Boeing C-17A Globemaster IIIs strategic airlifters to the rescue / recovery / repatriation effort, as well as a Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules, an Ilyushin IL-76 and a pair of Mil Mi-17 helicopters. The Republic of Singapore Air Force is sending three of its ten Hercules aircraft; the Pakistan Air Force sent four of its 18 C-130s and the Royal Thai Air Force committed Hercs as well. Qatar dispatched two civilian Qatar Airways Cargo Airbus A330 to Kathmandu. China sent its rescue team on an Air China Airbus A330.
Sweden initially committed a team of 72 men and women plus 12 dogs to help Nepalese authorities in the search for survivors and recovery efforts, but later decided to send 30 people and no dogs on board a civilian freighter. The team has enough supplies and essentials to be self-sufficient for two weeks and left Örebro Airport in the centre of the country at around 21:20 local time on Monday 27 April. Earlier it was thought that the bigger team would go on one of the EU/NATO’s three C-17A Globmasters based at Papa Airbase in Hungary. Sweden is one of the main users of this small pool of European airlift.
The Netherlands sent a Urban Search and Rescue team of 62 men/women and 8 dogs to the area, using a Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) KDC-10. The team will depart the Netherlands on Sunday evening. Five tonnes of aid accompanies the team on board the RNLAF aircraft. The UK is sending a C-17 Globemaster and C-130 Hercules, while the US has ordered a C-17 with 70 disaster assistance personnel and 45 square tonnes of cargo to the region.
Nepal Army Air Wing
The resources of Nepal itself are spread thin. The Nepal Army Air Wing only has a few air assets available. The fixed wing fleet consists of two Antonov AN-28 light transport aircraft, a Britten Norman BN-2 Islander utility aircraft and a Hawker Siddeley HS 748 transport aircraft.
A quartet of Indian-made HAL Dhruv, four Alouette IIIs and five Mil Mi-17 “Hip” make up the mainstay of the rotary wing. It is complemented by a Eurocopter (Airbus Helicotpers) AS350 Écureuil and two Aérospatiale SA315 Alouette IIs/Lamas. A bigger Eurocopter (Airbus Helicopters) AS332 Puma is configured for VIP flights. The Nepal Army has only one main base of operations, part of Kathmandu Airport, but there are at least 36 airfields spread across the country that can be used for air operations.
It is not known if and how many aircraft in Nepal have been damaged by the earthquake. Private rotary wing is available as well, but we have no numbers at this time.
The Swedish Armed Forces set a major step in decommissioning the aging Aérospatiale HKP 10 (AS332) Super Puma when Ronneby/Kallinge Air Base (F17) stopped operations with the type on 4 December 2014.
The HKP 10s are slowly being replaced by the new NHIndustries NH90, of which nine have been delivered so far. The Försvarets Helikopterflottiljen at Ronneby will also continue operations with the HKP 15s (Agusta 109LUHs), while the field serves mainly as one of the three Main Operating Bases with two dozen of JAS 39C/D Gripen fighter jets.
Luleå/Kallax Air Base (F21) in the far north of Sweden continues to operate about four HKP 10s until also there the final Super Puma will be relieved by the NH90s. Sweden has operated the Aérospatiale medium-lift helicopter in SAR and other roles since 1988.
UPDATED 2 JANUARY 2015 | Once again a catastrophe hit an Asian airliner. Air Asia’s Airbus A320-216 with flight number QZ8501 was officially declared missing on 28 December at 06:24 local time en route from Surabaya to Singapore. On 30 December the sad but expected news came that floating bodies and possible even the contours of the plane were spotted in the Java Sea, about 6 miles (10 km) from the location where all contact with flight QZ8501 was lost. That is about 100 miles (160 km) southwest of the Indonesian city of Pangkalan Bun at Kalimantan.
Radar controllers at both Jakarta’s Sukarno-Hatta IAP and the radar station of Kohanudnas lost contact with the plane at 06:17 on Sunday the 28th at coordinates 03 22’46 S and 108 50’07 E. Very bad weather has been reported in the area, with the pilot asking an alternative route likely to avoid it. The aircraft never reached it’s destination where it was suppose to land at 08:30 local time, nor did its crew send a distress signal.
According to high-ranking Indonesian Naval Aviation commander, Air Asia’s flight QZ8501 is thought to have crashed into Tanjung Pandan waters in Bangka Belitung area, where the water levels are as shallow as 75 to 150 feet (25 to 50 metres). Indonesia’s call during Monday for the US to assist in the search operations was heard. CNN reported just before Midnight London time that the destroyer USS Sampson (DDG-102) – with on board one or two Sikorsky SH-60 Seahawks – is en route to help. A US Navy Boeing P-8I Poseidon is also expected.
Initial reports say that the A320 flight crew contacted Jakarta Air Traffic Control at 06:12 local time and requested an altitude increase from 34,000 to 38,000 feet because of clouds. The plane is also said to have taken a route away from its pre-planned flightpath to evade turbulent weather. The aircraft in question is registered as PK-AXC and had its first flight on 25 September 2008 according to the Airfleets database. The Air Asia plane had taken off from Surabaya at 05:36 local time.
At the time of the disappearance six other planes were in proximity of Flight QZ8501, on somewhat similar routes. Those planes include aircraft from Garuda Indonesia, Lion Air and Emirates, according to reports released by AirNav, the Indonesian national Flight Navigation Service.
There was some debate about the time of disappearance – reports also indicated 07:24, but that seems to be the fault of the difference in time zones between Singapore and Indonesia. After the plane was lost, a search-and-rescue operation was started. But despite great efforts the mission was severely hampered by the weather conditions and darkness, with authorities even pausing the efforts overnight to find the missing plane. The search was resumed at about 06:45 Jakarta time / 07:45 Singapore time on Monday 29 December 2014.
From the air travellers 149 are from Indonesia, three from South Korea, one from Singapore, one from Malaysia and one from the United Kingdom. Six of the crew members are Indonesian, the co-pilot has the French nationality. Air Asia says the crew of A320 flight QZ8501 is seasoned, with Captain Iriyanto having 6,100 flying on Air Asia’s A320. First office Remi Emmanuel Plesel had a total of 2,275 flying hours with Air Asia Indonesia. According to the Indonesian Air Force (TNI-AU), missing Air Asia Airbus A320’s captain is a former Air Force pilot who used to fly the Northrop F-5 Tiger with 14 Squadron (Skadron Udara 14) based at Madiun/Iswahjudi.
Initial air force reports indicate that Indonesian Air Force (TNI-AU) was contacted at 07:55 local time (this might be 06:55 depending on the initial mix-up of time zones) to help search for the missing plane. One of the TNI-AU C-130 Hercules from 31 Squadron at from Halim Airbase went airborne on Sunday at 13:10 local time, but a spokesperson quickly called the weather already “rather challenging”. The Herc piloted by Pilot Mayor Pnb Akal Juang flew the Karimata Islands and surrounding areas down to an altitude of 1500 feet, while its crew and 11 pre-selected local journalist from Jakarta based media on board searched in vain. The C-130 returned without finding anything on 18:40 local time.
A spokesperson also said the TNI-AU scrambled a Boeing 737 MPA from Supadio/Pontianak at West Kalimantan, but is was not immediately clear if that was a mistake or if the plane just happened to be there since the 737s are not officially based there. Moreover an Airbus Helicopters NAS-332 Super Puma was ordered to search, likely coming from Skadron Udara 6 based at Bogor/Atang Senjaya Java. On Monday 29 December the Indonesian armed forces sent six aircraft in the air: two C-130s, a B-737-200 maritime surveillance aircraft, a Navy PTDI CN235 Persuaders and two Super Puma helicopters. The Jakarta Post reports that another three TNI-AU C-130s have participated in the search as well, but these might be the Hercs from neighbouring air forces. Bell 412s were also involved in the operations.
Singapore and India
Amongst the other search assets deployed were two Republic of Singapore Air Force C-130H Hercules’s from 122 Squadron based at Paya Lebar Airbase, joined on Monday by at least two RSAF Super Pumas. The Indian Navy put one of its brand new Boeing P-8Is based at Naval Air Station Rajali on stand-by on Sunday.
Royal Malaysian Air Force
At least one Royal Malaysian Air Force Hercules was readied on Sunday, likely from 20 Squadron based at Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah / Subang RMAF in Kuala Lumpur. On Monday 29 December the RMAF fielded a C-130 (likely the only C-130MP), a CN235-220M tactical airlifter and and a Beechcraft 200T Super King Air maritime patrol aircraft.
Royal Australian Air Force
Australia pre-alerted one of its AP-3C Orions on 28 December. The RAAF Orion joined the search on 29 December, taking off from Darwin in the early morning and heading to Indonesia. “The RAAF AP-3C Orion aircraft has a well proven capability in search and rescue and carries maritime search radar coupled with infra-red and electro-optical sensors to support the visual observation capabilities provided by its highly trained crew members,” RAAF Air Chief Marshal Binskin said in an official statement.
What is left for friends and families of the ones on board Air Asia A320 flight QZ8501 is hope that the combined search effort has at least some result and doesn’t end like Malaysia Airlines MH370.