BERLIN (Reuters) - German officials investigating the deadly crash of a military Airbus Tiger helicopter in Mali last summer have ruled out an external attack or weather factors, and said they were focused on an aberration in the aircraft’s control system.
Military officials briefed the parliamentary defense committee on Wednesday on the latest finding about the crash that killed both crew members during a peacekeeping mission in the West African nation’s desert north last July.
In a letter to lawmakers, seen by Reuters, State Secretary Markus Gruebel said the investigation had also found no evidence of malfunction in the aircraft’s rotors or engine.
He said investigators were focused on “striking aberrations in the longitudinal control system” of the helicopter, which “significantly limited” the motion of its elevator axis, causing its autopilot to shut off, but had not determined how they occurred.
The aberration was not found in any other Tiger helicopters in the German fleet, the letter said.
Gruebel provided a harrowing account of the crash, which he said likely caught both crew members, both experienced pilots, completely by surprise.
“The helicopter fell into a steep uncontrolled pitch forward within three seconds,” limiting the pilots’ ability to respond given the high G-forces of the fall. The helicopter literally came apart during the crash, the report said.
Spiegel Online had reported late Tuesday that investigators believed the crash was caused by incorrect settings on the autopilot, but it remained unclear who programmed the settings on the autopilot software.
A parliamentary source confirmed the gist of the Spiegel report, but other sources familiar with the investigation said it was incorrect to say the crash was caused by the autopilot.
Airbus said the investigation was ongoing and it was too early to draw conclusions about potential root causes.
“As technical consultant in this investigation, Airbus Helicopters agrees with the Directorate of Aviation Safety Bundeswehr on the findings the investigation has produced so far,” the company said in a statement.
It did not name the Spiegel report specifically, but said “major elements” of some German media reports on the latest findings were wrong.
A Defence Ministry official declined comment on the Spiegel report, saying the investigation was expected to continue for months.
Reporting by Andrea Shalal and Sabine Siebold; Writing by Andrea Shalal and Michelle Martin; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg, William Maclean