Bulgaria’s Defence Minister Krassimir Karakachanov blamed last month’s crash of a Soviet-made Mi-17 helicopter, which killed two crew members and caused severe injuries to the third, on the deteriorated flight skills of the two pilots, caused by insufficient flight time.
Speaking to private broadcaster bTV on July 31, Karakachanov said he would not go into too much detail because military prosecutors were yet to issue a final report, but said that the “loss of reflexes due to the few flight hours” was the main reason for the accident.
This was a complete U-turn from Karakachanov’s initial comments after the crash, when he said that it was unlikely that a human error was to blame and that a technical breakdown was the likely cause.
The investigation ordered by Karakachanov finished earlier this month, but its findings were classified and forwarded to military prosecutors.
Asked about who should be held responsible for the loss of life, Karakachanov blamed the lack of funding for maintenance and repair operations over the past 25 years.
“I cannot guarantee that pilots will keep their lives until the flight equipment is brought to working order, until these people are guaranteed that they can fly,” he said.
Accidents like this one were the reason why Bulgaria should continue to spend on the maintenance of old Soviet-made equipment, such as helicopters and fighter jets, Karakachanov said.
In recent months, his ministry has come under fire for plans to award contracts for the maintenance of MiG fighter jets to Russian companies, while the tender to pick new fighter jets compatible with the standards of Nato, of which Bulgaria has been a member since 2004, was scrapped and called anew earlier in July.
(Mi-17 helicopter used by Bulgarian air forces. The crashed aircraft had the 417 call sign. Photo: KGG1951/Wikimedia Commons)