THE HAGUE, NETHERLANDS – A Royal Netherlands Navy NH90 helicopter has crashed in the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Aruba, killing 2 of the 4 crew members. The pilot and a tactical coordinator died in the crash. The other 2 crew members did not suffer serious physical injuries.
The NH90 NFH (NATO Frigate Helicopter) hit the water in the Caribbean Sea near the island of Aruba at the end of a coastguard patrol on Sunday afternoon around 2:30 PM local time, killing 34-year-old helicopter pilot Christine Martens and 33-year-old tactical coordinator Erwin Warnies.
The news of the accident was announced at 5:00 AM (CET) by Armed Forces Commander Lt. Admiral Rob Bauer during a news conference in The Hague, after the families of the killed crew members had been informed by the Dutch Ministry of Defense.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Minister of Defense Ank Bijleveld are shocked by the helicopter crash. Rutte said he is ‘deeply affected’. “My condolences goes to their immediate family.” Bijleveld shared her grief in a Tweet:
The Dutch Ministry of Defence launched an investigation and immediately grounded all Dutch NH90 helicopters, until there will be more information about what could have caused the helicopter to crash.
The NH90 from 860 Squadron is based at Naval Air Station De Kooy in The Netherlands and operating in the Caribbean from patrol vessel Zr.Ms. Groningen, which is based at Naval Station Den Helder in The Netherlands and is being deployed to the island of Curacao – with Aruba and Bonaire part of The Kingdom of The Netherlands.
A Coast Guard helicopter and defense dive team will support Zr.Ms. Groningen to secure the NH90. Their first priority will be finding the flight recorder (black box).
- “The flight recorder (black box) of the crashed NH-90 has been recovered”, the Dutch Ministry of Defense said in a Tweet Monday afternoon, and “is available for investigation into the circumstances of the crash.”
- The Netherlands is flying an investigation team to Curaçao to investigate the circumstances of the crash. They will fly to the Caribbean island with a KDC-10 from the RNLAF.
- Investigators from the Dutch Safety Board (OVV), the Defense Safety Inspectorate and the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee (Military Police) will investigate the cause of the crash based on data from the flight recorder and witness statements.
- The NH90 has sunk to the seabed around midnight on Monday due to the rough sea and strong winds, the Ministry of Defense reports. Two of the four inflatable floats that kept the helicopter at the surface of the sea have bursted. This will make the salvage of the helicopter quite a challenge. The sea is 2 to 3 kilometers deep at the location where the NH90 sunk.
- The bodies of the two killed soldiers have now arrived in Curaçao. It is not yet known when they can be transported to the Netherlands.
- The bodies of killed crew members will return to the Netherlands this weekend, the Dutch Ministry of Defense stated.
- Their remains are flown back in a KDC-10 transport aircraft of the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF). The aircraft is expected to arrive at Eindhoven Air Base on Saturday around 1:00 PM local time.
- After a short ceremony in Aruba, the bodies of the 2 crew members who died in the helicopter crash were flown back from Curacao to The Netherlands on Friday. A RNLAF KDC-10 transported the bodies to Eindhoven Air Base, where it arrived on Saturday at 1:00 PM local time. The bodies were transferred to the families of the killed pilot and tactical coordinator.
- A short ceremony was held at the air base, in the presence of an emotional Minister of Defense Ank Bijleveld, State Secretary of Defense Barbara Visser, and Commander of the Dutch Armed Forces Rob Bauer.
- The wreckage of the NH90 helicopter has been located by the Maritime Capacity Alliance, the Dutch Ministry of Defense reports. The marine helicopter is laying on the seabed near Aruba in two pieces. The Dutch Ministry of Defense is examining whether the helicopter can be recovered.
NH Industries NH90
The NHIndustries NH90 is a medium-sized, twin-engine, multi-role military helicopter. The helicopter is developed in response to NATO requirements calling for a battlefield helicopter which would also be capable of being operated in naval environments.
The NH90 is developed and manufactured by NHIndustries – a collaborative company, owned today by Airbus Helicopters (62.5%), Leonardo – formerly AgustaWestland – (32%) and Fokker Aerostructures (5.5%).
NHIndustries was established in 1992, after a partnership was formed between Eurocopter from France and Germany – now Airbus Helicopters, Agusta from Italy – now Leonardo and Stork Fokker Aerospace from The Netherlands – now Fokker Aerostructures.
The NH90 is operated by 14 countries – Australia, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Qatar, Spain and Sweden.
NATO Frigate Helicopter
The NH90 NFH’s primary role is autonomous anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and anti-surface unit warfare (ASuW), mainly from naval ships. The NFH variant is equipped to operate day and night, during adverse weather and severe ship motion operations. The NFH’s additional roles include anti-air warfare support, vertical replenishment (VERTREP), search and rescue (SAR) and troop transport.
The Netherlands – one of the original countries to support the NH90 programme – ordered a total of 20 aircraft, including 12 NH90 NFH for the Royal Netherlands Navy and 8 NH90 TNFH (Tactical Transport Helicopter) for the Air Force.
In 2010, the Royal Netherlands Navy was the first customer to receive the NFH variant.
(Head image: © Jerry Taha)