The pilot of the Vietnamese military helicopter that went down in Ho Chi Minh City on Wednesday apparently managed to avoid crashing into a residential area, local media reported Thursday.
The UH-1 chopper hit the ground in a plantation surrounded by Melaleuca forest in the outlying district of Binh Chanh, a location that is not on the Ho Chi Minh City – Tay Ninh route it was supposed to fly, according to the Radio Voice of Vietnam.
“The aircraft engine could have broken down unexpectedly, and the crew tried to control it out of the residential area,” the Hanoi-based radio station quoted Colonel Le Van Hanh, political commissar of Air Force division 370, as saying.
But Lieutenant General Vo Van Tuan, Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Vietnam People's Army, told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper that this possibility is unverified.
“The chopper was flying on the right path and there is no residential area at the site of the crash,” he said.
The helicopter, carrying four soldiers, departed from Tan Son Nhat International Airport for a training flight to Tay Ninh, a southern province 100km from Ho Chi Minh City.
Eight minutes after takeoff, the chopper lost contact with air traffic controllers over the city’s Cu Chi District, according to a source close to Tuoi Tre.
The chopper had been missing for 150 minutes as of 10:30 am, before Lieutenant General Tuan confirmed the crash at around 11:00 am.
At 12:08 pm, a Tuoi Tre correspondent reported from the scene that the chopper wreckage and bodies of the soldiers had been found at the Pham Van Hai plantation in Binh Chanh District.
There were no survivors among the four soldiers aboard the aircraft.
Their corpses have been taken to a military-run hospital in Ho Chi Minh City.
As of 9:00 pm, rescuers had only managed to remove the fuselage of the chopper from the forest, while its engine and tail remain at the scene.
The tail is the only intact part of the helicopter as the rest of the debris was scattered around the area, according to an on-scene Tuoi Tre reporter.
La Van Nghe, a local, said he was working on the farm at around 7:30 am when he heard a loud noise from inside the forest, followed by a pillar of smoke.
Many other locals also said they heard the explosion, but none directly saw the falling aircraft, making it impossible to determine whether the chopper exploded above the sky or only after it hit the ground.
Lieutenant General Tuan said the Vietnamese Air Force is investigating the crash site.
“It can now be confirmed that the crash was caused by a broken engine and the pilots were unable to handle the situation,” Tuan said, while ruling out terrorism and sabotage.
The Lieutenant General added that the crashed helicopter underwent an overhaul two years ago and was regularly maintained.
“But planes are also like cars, which can suddenly break down,” he said. “All UH1 choppers will undergo a technical review in the wake of this incident."