In a major setback to India's efforts to market its indigenous helicopters in the overseas market, a Dhruv helicopter sold to the Ecuadorian Air Force on Wednesday crashed in Quito during a military parade, leaving two of the pilots injured.
The air mishap also forced the Ecuadorian Air Force to ground the six other Dhruv advanced light helicopters in its fleet till the probe it ordered into the mishap was completed.
The helicopter had hit the ground after veering off course while flying in formation with two other helicopters over an air force base near Quito. The Ecuador Dhruv fleet also includes one ALH used by President Rafael Correa.
The helicopter, from among the fleet of seven Dhruvs that India's Hindustan Aeronautics Limited sold to Ecuador last year in a USD 50 million (about Rs 2,360 million) deal, was destroyed in the crash. Following the mishap, HAL has rushed its team, which is already based in Ecuador since last year, to probe the reasons for the crash, HAL spokesperson Ananth Krishnan said over phone from Bangalore.
"Our team is stationed in Ecuador to support their Advanced Light Helicopter fleet and it is looking into the reasons behind the crash," Krishnan said.
India had delivered these seven Dhruvs in February at the Bengaluru AeroIndia show. The HAL had also trained the Ecuadorean Air Force crewmembers in flying the helicopters at its facility in India before the delivery.
The Ecuador deal was the first ever breakthrough HAL had in its efforts to make an export sale of the Dhruv. Since then, HAL has exported three more of its Dhruvs to Turkey.
It had also leased out one of the ALHs to Israel, but the aircraft was returned after the lease period last year.
After the Ecuador sale, several South American countries, including Bolivia, evinced interest in the Dhruv, which prompted HAL to send a team of its officials to Ecuador and also open a back office in the country.
HAL's ALH programme had faced troubles with the Indian armed forces and the fleet was grounded after one helicopter made forced landing due to problems in its tail motor. The navy, which was also planning to purchase the helicopter, found that it could not be landed on a ship and lost interest in the programme.
An ALH crashed before the start of the AeroIndia exhibition in 2007 killing the pilot, when the flying display team Sarang was practicing for the air show.
Dhruv is a five-tonne helicopter that is available in transport, medical evacuation and armed versions.
HAL is still working on the armed version, which is likely to be inducted into the Indian armed forces in about five years.
The transport version is already in service with the Indian Army and the IAF and was recently cleared for flying in high altitude areas such as Leh. The Indian armed forces have also flown the Dhruv in Siachen.