‘Human error’ to blame for Mali helicopter crash that killed 13 French troops

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An investigation into a helicopter crash in Mali has highlighted organisational and human errors leading to deaths of 13 French soldiers, part of Operation Barkhane, when two helicopters collided on 25 November 2019.

“Organisational and human factors,” were responsible for the crash in Mali, involving a Tiger and Cougar helicopter, according to the report published on Saturday by France’s State Aviation Safety Accident Investigation Office (BEA-E).

The report blames several failures in communication, leading to a lack of awareness by the flight crews who did “not detect the presence of the other aircraft”.

The crash occurred west of Menaka town, in the Gao region, close to Mali’s northeastern border with Niger. Some reports initially suggested jihadists had shot down the helicopters.

The helicopters were responsible for supporting ground troops and flew at low altitude at night alongside four other helicopters. The delicate situation was said by investigators to require considerable situational awareness.

Flight crews paid too much attention to what was happening on the ground and neglected to follow certain rules, the BEA-E said.

Breakdown in comms

Radio exchanges revealed disorderly communications, with an accumulation of bad choices and small failures, according to the report.

There was no common safety briefing for the aircraft, which came from different bases, and too many different channels for communications, with some essential messages omitted under stressful conditions, the inquiry said.

The investigation is also careful not to heap blame on the military, given sometimes contradictory objectives and a stressful mission marked by a difference of analysis between ground and flight teams.

The mission was part of an operation with French commandos tracking a group of armed militants travelling with pickup trucks and motorbikes.

Soldiers on board the Cougar helicopter were expected to carry out the “immediate extraction” of an individual on the ground.

About 19:40, as the French troops were preparing to engage the enemy, the Cougar collided with the Tiger, an attack helicopter.

French President Emmanuel Macron noted the “courage” of the soldiers who “died for France”, following the deadly crash.