Pilot error unlikely, say investigators

The helicopters crashed in Beuson, near Sion in canton Valais

Investigators into the collision of two helicopters on Tuesday say a pilot error was almost certainly not responsible. Seven Indian tourists and a Swiss pilot died in the crash, the worst helicopter accident in Swiss aviation history.

This content was published on September 27, 2000

An official from the Swiss Office for Aircraft Accident Investigations said preliminary investigations suggested a mistake by one of the pilots could be ruled out.

He said they were now trying to get a clearer picture of what happened, and were concentrating on questioning as many eyewitnesses as possible. He said first results were unlikely to be available in the coming days.

The collision occurred as the two helicopters, a Bell Jet Ranger and an Alouette III, both belonging to the Air Glaciers company, were coming in to land on the football field in Beuvon, a village near the town of Sion in canton Valais.

The aircraft had just completed a five-minute sightseeing tour above the surrounding Alps for the Indian tourists. The crash was witnesses by about 60 other Indians, who had already had their turn.

Eyewitnesses said the helicopters moved very close to each other as they were hovering about 15 metres above the field. They said they fell to the ground after their rotor blades touched.

All six passengers and the Swiss pilot on board the Bell Jet Ranger died. One tourist on board the Alouette was killed in the crash, while the other three passengers and the pilot escaped with injuries.

R.L. Negi, head of the chancellery at the Indian embassy in Berne, said the Indians injured in the crash were all out of danger. One was expected to be discharged from the hospital in Sion on Wednesday. He said one of the others had a fractured ankle, the other fractured ribs.

Two of the injured were from Bombay and one from Delhi.

Negi said all the victims were part of a group of about 20 travelling in Europe on a tour organised by the company, Orbit. He said they had visited Expo 2000 in the German city of Hannover, before travelling to Switzerland.

Negi said five of those who died are from the town of Ahmedabat in Gujarat state, two were from Delhi and one came from Kanpur.

Two officials from the Indian embassy in Berne and two from its consulate in Geneva have been dispatched to Sion to help the Swiss authorities formally identify the victims, before the bodies can be flown back to India.

In Beuvon, investigators and rescue officials have begun removing the debris from the two aircraft. They said the field would remain sealed off until environmental experts had evaluated the damage caused by the spillage of about 100 litres of kerosene onto the pitch, and decided what measures to take.

The body of the pilot who was killed has been taken to Lausanne for an autopsy. The Indian victims were six men and one woman, but no more is known about their age.

swissinfo with agencies

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