Helicopter Crash Jeopardizes Exports

By Ahn Jun-yong, Jun Hyun-suk | July 19, 2018 13:56

Tuesday's crash of a Marine Corps chopper has put exports of the country's first homegrown helicopter Surion at stake.

Korea Aerospace Industries, the developer of the Surion, the prototype of the crashed chopper, has tried to find markets in Southeast Asia and Latin America with the support from the government. But the crash could sink its chances.

No Surion chopper has been sold abroad yet, but KAI recently announced an ambitious target to sell about 200 overseas over the next 15 years.

During his stay here in June, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte sat in the cockpit of a Surion chopper and turned the ignition on himself.

"We're at the final stage of selling 11 Surion choppers to the Philippines with the government support," KAI CEO Kim Jo-won boasted last month. "The contract, which is almost done now, is worth W250 billion" (US$1=W1,132).

A falling chopper is captured by a surveillance camera in Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province on Tuesday. /Courtesy of the Marine Corps

The Surion was deployed by the Army for the first time in December 2012. It took six years to develop at a cost of about W1.3 trillion. A total of 93 Surion choppers have been deployed at military units and the Army Aviation School, and KAI has also signed supply contracts with the National Police Agency, the National Fire Agency, and the Korea Forest Service.

The chopper that crashed was a remodeled version of the Surion for Marine Corps operations, one of four delivered to the Marine Corps, which plans to buy 28 by 2023, in the first half of this year.

Meanwhile, military authorities believe that the crash was caused by a defect in the main rotor blades right after it took off.

"Noise and vibration occurred in the rotor blades right before the crash," a military source said. "Two or three explosions occurred after the crash." A military investigator said, "We're paying attention to the possibility of a defect in parts or the chopper itself or poor maintenance."

The Marine Corps posthumously promoted the five marines who were killed in the crash to a higher rank. 

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