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Mali crash: German military pilots' group cites deficiencies

The helicopter crash in Mali has been attributed to insufficient testing and flight training by a military pilots' lobby group. But the Bundeswehr says it doesn't deploy inexperienced crews to the UN mission.

A German Tiger helicopter hovers in front of tent-like hangers at Gao

Germany's Bundeswehr air base at Gao, Mali

The technician and pilot lobby group IGHT told the newspaper "Bild" Friday that Germany's Tiger combat helicopters and their crews sent into Mali's harsh deserts had been inadequately prepared.

"Our Tiger pilots don't have enough experience in the machines deployed, to fully command those helicopters in borderline situations," said Reinhardt Schlepphorst, who chairs the specialized group representing aviation personnel.

None of the Tiger pilots had reached the 140 flight hours required under NATO rules before being sent on the military operation, said Schlepphorst.

A Bundeswehr spokesman quoted by the German news agency DPA rejected that charge, saying "we send no inexperienced pilots into operation."

Wednesday's crash northeast of Gao in central Mali which claimed two lives, involved a pilot who had already served in Afghanistan, added the spokesman.

A German crash investigations team has been sent to Mali to locate the flight data recorder from the crashed helicopter, which went down suddenly early afternoon, local time, in hot temperatures of around 38 degrees Celsius (98 degrees Fahrenheit), reportedly with no distress call.

Speculation

Rainer Arnold, defense spokesman for Germany's Social Democrats (SPD), who are currently coalition partners with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives, told the Saarbrücker Zeitung newspaper Friday it was too early to draw consequences from the helicopter crash.

"On this we simply have too little information," Arnold said.

Bundeswehr under-resourced?

Friday's debate is the latest exchange in a long-running row over the readiness of Bundeswehr equipment coupled with calls for more funding.

Germany deployed four Tiger and four NH-90 transport helicopters to Mali earlier this year - after a hefty Bundestag debate - as part of the UN mission MINUSMA to counter Islamist insurgents that began in 2012 following a French intervention.

Used by four nations

Wednesday's crash was the first deadly incident involving the Tiger, a two-seater German-Franco helicopter developed by Airbus, originally as an anti-tank fighter, but converted into a multi-role aircraft with infrared and TV cameras.

Europe's twin-engine helicopter series, which first entered service in 2003, is used primarily by the armies of France, Germany, Spain and Australia.

The specialist website Helis says Eurocopter, the manufacturing consortium, had delivered 120 Tiger of all variants to the four nations by 2015.

Bundeswehr losses

Since 1993, Germany has lost 108 soldiers due to attacks, combat, accidents and suicides during foreign deployments, including 56 in Afghanistan.

Other such locations were Bosnia and Kosovo.

The first was a medical corps sergeant assigned to a UN mission in Cambodia, who was shot in 1993.

ipj/ng (dpa, AFP)

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