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.
Apart from the helicopters US and Spanish marines embarked onto the Rotterdam just off the Spanish coast. Together with British and Dutch colleagues they will train military personnel from African nations. This exercise African Winds is an initiative of the US Africa Command. The Rotterdam serves as flagship and local operational headquarters of the training force.
The first marine units already started their training to personnel in Morocco and Senegal. Ghana follows next week. The training includes jungle ops, amphibian ops and boarding operations – how to tactically insert teams onto ships. As soon as the Dutch amphibian command vessel is present, marines from the joining four NATO countries and their African counterparts will train together with naval personnel. The USMC Hueys provide support and a training platform during the exercise.
So, no more Brazilian Mirages from December on. Well, that’s one reason less to go there, although we are pretty sure there are many reasons left. But that’s future stuff; over the past 25 years or so, Mirages have worked their magic pretty well on us. Let’s see a few.