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Gotthard pass

Two pilots die in Swiss helicopter crash

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Emergency responders were going over the wreckage at the crash site on Wednesday (Keystone/Ti-Press/Samuel Golay)

Emergency responders were going over the wreckage at the crash site on Wednesday

(Keystone/Ti-Press/Samuel Golay)

A military helicopter crashed in the central Swiss Alps on Wednesday, killing two pilots and injuring a flight assistant.

The head of the Swiss Air Force, Aldo Schellenberg said the incident occurred when a Super Puma helicopter crashed onto the Gotthard pass road at midday.

"I'm deeply shocked," Schellenberg told a news conference in Bern.

The helicopter crashed shortly after take-off close to a hotel, the St Gotthard Hospice. It had flown a delegation of four French army officers and Swiss officials to the area.

They were part of a regular two-day mission of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) inspecting Swiss army installations. André Blattmann, head of the armed forces, said the helicopter had apparently hit a power cable.

The air force declined to give any further information, saying an investigation into the cause of the crash is underway. Technical problems appear to be ruled out as the Super Puma helicopters that were temporarily grounded following the accident, we given the green signal to fly on Thursday. A spokesperson at the crash site told Swiss News Agency ATS on Thursday that it will be at least six months before the final investigation report is ready for release.  

Defence Minister Guy Parmelin visited the crash site, telling the Swiss public news agency SDA: "This is a new drama for the defence ministry." He was referring also to a crash of a military jet last month.

The Gotthard pass is a mountain road at 2,108 metres above sea level.

Schellenberg said he had ordered the fleet of Puma and Cougar helicopters to remain grounded. On Thursday morning the Defence Ministry said Super Puma flights would resume on Thursday.

The air force operates a fleet of 27 transport helicopters.  

An eyewitness told Italian-language Swiss Public Television, RSI, “It [the helicopter] took off after a group of soldiers jumped out. It flew for about 20 metres and then I heard a bang – not very loud – then it overturned on its side, losing altitude and crashing to the ground.”

Helicopter type

A Super Puma is a type of helicopter manufactured in France. It is used by the Swiss Air Force for liaison, rescue and disaster relief, according to the Swiss Air Force website. It has two pilots and can carry up to 18 passengers. 

The website states, "in cases of emergency and crash-landings, the Super Puma is equipped with modern safety and security features."

Previous incidents

The incident has come just over a month after a Swiss Air Force F/A 18 jet crashed on August 29, killing the pilot. It was given a too low altitude reading by air traffic control after losing radar contact.

That incident was the third time the Air Force has lost one of its F/A 18 aircrafts in the last three years. Last October, a two-seat F/A-18 crashed in France during a training flight, injuring the pilot, while another F/A-18 crashed in 2013.

In June, an F5 fighter jet from Patrouille Suisse crashed in the Netherlands after two jets touched during a training flight there. The pilot was able to escape using the ejector seat.

Over the past 20 years, there have been 12 accidents involving Swiss Air Force jets or helicopters, killing 21 people. The last serious incident involving a helicopter in Switzerland was in March, 2011 when a 'Cougar‘ helicopter crashed during a training flight in cloud. Both the instructor and pupil were seriously injured.

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