Bulgaria’s Defence Minister Krassimir Karakachanov ordered an investigation into the accident involving a Soviet-made Mi-17 helicopter, which crashed during a training exercise late on June 11, killing two pilots.
A third crew member was injured in the crash, but was in stable condition, the Defence Ministry said in a statement. Reports in Bulgarian media said that the third crew member was able to walk away from the wreckage after extricating himself.
The crash occurred as the helicopter was returning to the Krumovo air base to finish a training exercise, in which the crew simulated a low-altitude rescue mission. The helicopter made three training flights with different crews earlier in the day and was scheduled to carry out two more.
The aircraft appeared to lose control as it was coming in for landing and fell from a height of 30 metres, giving the crew no time to react, public broadcaster Bulgarian National Radio reported, quoting Krumovo air base commander General Dimitar Ivanov.
Karakachanov told reporters that it was unlikely that a human error was to blame for the accident, as the two pilots had 600 hours and 500 hours flight experience, respectively.
“It looks most likely that a technical breakdown led to the crash that left two dead and one injured. But it is too early to talk about this before the investigation gives its opinion. The site is currently being investigated by the military police and military prosecutors,” Karakachanov said, as quoted by Bulgarian National Television (BNT).
Roumyana Arnaoudova, the prosecutor-general’s spokesperson, told BNT that the initial inspection of the crash site showed no signs that a human mistake led to the accident.
“This tragedy once again proves that the modernisation of the Bulgarian armed forces [equipment] is urgently needed,” Karakachanov said.
The Mi-17 helicopter, the Bulgarian Air Force’s only one of five such aircraft that was in flying condition, has been in use since 1989 and was last repaired in 2016.
(Mi-17 helicopter used by Bulgarian air forces. The crashed aircraft had the 417 call sign. Photo: KGG1951/Wikimedia Commons)