The Strange tale of Helicopter ER-MCV

Mi-26T, registration ER-MCV
Mi-26T, registration ER-MCV

Let me just say this first

If this helicopter has been used for carrying our Armed Forces then this is a betrayal on the highest scale of our Troops. If it has then at the least Ainsworth should go and in reality it should be Brown who carries the can.

Yesterday buried amongst the news was the story of a crashed helicopter near the British base in Sangin. Not a big story as no British or American forces had been killed only seven “others” (6 crewmen and an Afghan child on the ground).  The story was picked up and apparently tossed aside by the big boys in the UK, the BBC had this to say

The passengers were all civilians on board a private aircraft, a spokesman for Nato-led forces said. It is not clear what caused the incident.The helicopter crashed near Sangin military base in Helmand. The district governor, quoting locals, told the BBC it had been shot down by insurgents. Reports say those killed included contractors working for foreign forces.

Basically a bit of a none story as it didn’t affect the allies, or so it would seem, but nothing is that simple, as it seems that the helicopter was actually working for NATO taking supplies and perhaps more to British Bases. Could it possibly have been used to ferry British Troops?

This is one of those helicopters that according to Gordon Brown and Bob Ainsworth are providing us with all the extra helicopter hours.

According Defence of the Realm:

The additional machine was leased via Nato, operated by a Moldovan charter company, Pecotox Air, which has been banned from EU airspace for safety reasons and which has been implicated in arms trafficking.

These embarrassing details would not have emerged but for the unfortunate incident yesterday when it was reported the helicopter, a giant Mi-26T, registration ER-MCV (pictured above), was shot down by the Taleban a mile from the British military base in Sangin.

Misleadingly, the AP report (link above) cited the Moldovan operator claiming that the aircraft had been “ferrying humanitarian aid” when the crash took place, a detail quickly corrected by Reuters which had Western forces confirming that the helicopter had been “bringing supplies to a British base at Sangin.” According to the Los Angeles Times, it was contracted specifically to supply British forces.

So now we have a helicopter leased by Nato and helping to supply the British base at Sangin, a helicopter leased from a company implicated in arms trafficking so nothing dodgy about that, As Defence of the Realm explains:

Although The Times, in its report, falls for the “humanitarian aid” story (and misspells the charter company’s name), with a moment’s reflection the implausibility would be obvious. The aircraft was reported as being leased by Nato, an arrangement which was flagged up in October 2007, as a means of relieving the chronic shortage of helicopter lift in theatre.

One thing we know, Nato is not a humanitarian organisation. It most definitely does not charter helicopters to distribute aid – not least because the NGOs and aid agencies have their own budget for this work and would object to such efforts being associated with the military. However, it is obvious why Pecotox Air would want to mislead, as it would not want it widely known that it was delivering military supplies to British bases.

The fact that “unsafe” gun runners should end up supplying “Our Boys” is a story in itself. For several years, this blog has advocated that the British government should charter civilian helicopters directly, having been made aware of a number of reputable companies who could supply Russian-built helicopters – including the Mi-26 – upgraded with European avionics and flown by security-cleared ex-military crews.

However, such were the objections raised within the MoD – and especially by the RAF, which argued on safety, operational and security grounds against permitting civilian aircraft into military airspace – that, although the government relented briefly, it turned down a long-term arrangement. Instead, it chose to throw its lot in with Nato and charter an aircraft through this source.

By this means, the government was able to distance itself from hostile media and the political fall-out, with the Conservatives strongly against the use of such machines. Going through Nato also by-passed RAF objections.

In taking this option, however, the government lost control over the selection of the contractor, which was managed by Nato in Brussels on a lowest-bidder-wins basis. As a result, British taxpayers ended up paying for a helicopter operated by a company banned from the airspace of EU member states on safety grounds, with a record of gun-running, the machine flown by a Ukrainian crew, possibly of uncertain loyalty.

Whether a better-equipped machine would have evaded the Taleban attack is moot, but one suspects that this machine would not have been equipped with the latest defensive aids (which have proved extraordinarily successful).

How many supplies have been lost – and the cost – has not been disclosed, and probably never will. But at least Bob Ainsworth will no longer have to conceal the identity of his “secret” machine. It now lies a charred wreck, with seven dead as a testament to a very dirty war.

So now we have a scratched helicopter and seven lost lives, a dodgy operator and very few stories in the newspapers.

So time to think about a few questions, we have here a major asset a helicopter that can carry 20 tons of supplies or up to 150 soldiers. What else was it being used for at a time when we are sorely lacking in this type of asset. Almost definitely it was helping us resupply the Sangin base, but what else was this civilian helicopter transporting in times of need. According to this report from BASA press in Moldovia (where the company who operates the helicopter comes from):

Two Moldovan experts, representatives of the State Civil Aviation Agency, investigate the circumstances of the aircraft accident in Afghanistan, where a helicopter operated by the Moldovan air company “Pecotox-Air” crushed.

Leonid Tokorenko, the director of the air company “Pecotox-Air”, told for BASA-press that the experts had been in Afghanistan since Monday, July 13, when they started a technical control of the helicopter. “They will participate in the examination of the accident circumstances together with international and Afghanistan experts”, Tokorenko said. According to cited source, the helicopter was not hit by a missile as said earlier, but by a grenade launcher. “The helicopter transported food and water that the crew had to throw to the population of Sangin city, Helmand province. The helicopter was hit when the crew was going to detach the food and water in order to send it to the ground. The grenade hit the rotor and as a result the aircraft lost the power and crushed”, added the cited source.

None of the six members of the crew, all of them Ukrainian citizens, survived. “The bodies of five members were pulled out by peacekeeping soldiers and transported to the air base. The body of the sixth member has not been pulled out yet as the fuselage was destroyed and the gun shots continued at the place of the accident. Currently, several Taliban extremist groups claim that they are responsible for the accident”.

According to Tokorenko, the expenses for the transportation of the bodies will be covered by the Moldovan air company. “The bodies of our colleagues will be transported to their native place by Saturday, July 18”.

The accident occurred at 8:00 a.m. (local time) in Afghanistan: the helicopter MI-26 with the registration number ER-MCV was hit by a grenade launcher. The helicopter was operated by the Moldovan air company “Pecotox-Air”. It was on a humanitarian mission under the aegis of the Joint Forces of Afghanistan. There were six members of the crew on board, all of them Ukrainian citizens.

So according to this they were delivering food and water to civilians. This is highly unlikely for a NATO operated helicopter, but it gives us more detail about how it was shot down, happily this is not likely with the military versions which would be significantly better protected against this type of attack.

So the real likelihood is that it was helping to relieve road convoys to Sangin, particularly as there has been heavy fighting in the region, but the big question is if it has been used to carry British or other Allied troops. If it had been used for this then we have put the lives of our soldiers under severe threat, as this is a civilian type of of the Mi-26, it has, as can be seen, very little armoured protection and is just waiting to be shot out of the sky.

If it has been used for carrying our Armed Forces then this is a betrayal on the highest scale of our Troops. If it has then at the least Ainsworth should go and in reality it should be Brown who carries the can. I await further developments on this story.

One thought on “The Strange tale of Helicopter ER-MCV”

  1. Interesting speculation here. ER-MCV was under contract to UK MOD. Asset not declared to NATO. Logistical resupply only. UK and NATO troops are not authorized to fly on aircraft without ballistic protection and Self Protection Suites. This asset strictly moved cargo…cargo supplied largely by British Forces. Can’t comment of the specifics of the mission that day. Asset and contract was managed in theatre by SkyLink Aviation Canada. I don’t see comment from them or anyone asking them questions.

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