The military says bad weather forced an "emergency landing" of its airship in the South on Thursday, disputing media reports that it had crashed.
“It was an emergency landing, not a crash as widely reported by mass media,” the Army’s deputy spokesman Colonel Winai Suwaree said yesterday.
The airship was assigned to provide surveillance during a visit by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. But the weather was bad as it took off from a military camp in Pattani’s Nong Chik district, so officials called for an emergency landing from an altitude of around 20 metres.
According to media reports, the crew, consisting of two pilots and two technicians, leapt from the cabin before the airship landed and sustained slight injuries.
The landing was hard, and caused damage to the cabin and rotary system as well as some equipment inside, Winai said.
The surveillance camera system, which is the most expensive equipment on the airship, was undamaged because it wasn’t installed on Thursday, he said.
The Army will ask the aviation safety committee to evaluate the damage, the spokesman said, adding that it would be some time before the full details of the incident are known.
The airship’s systems were working properly during a flight that morning, but it had difficulties with the bad weather in the afternoon, Winai said.
Colonel Pramote Prom-in, the Internal Security Operations Command deputy spokesman based in Pattani, said a report from the pilots indicated that they lost control of the airship due to the bad weather before the decision was made to make an emergency landing.
Purchased for Bt350 million in 2009, the US-made Sky Dragon airship has been among the Army’s more controversial procurements. It has been criticised for its high cost and poor performance. Since being commissioned, more than Bt25 million has been spent on repairs.
The airship has only occasionally flown, and after being mostly grounded for the past two years, the Sky Dragon took flight again just last month on surveillance missions in the skies over Pattani.