By Tom Westcott.
Tripoli, 4 July 2013:
An air show, part of a ceremony to celebrate the graduation of pilots at Benghazi’s Air Force base, today went tragically wrong when a helicopter performing aerobatic manoeuvres crashed.
The crash happened just before noon, when the Mi35 helicopter hit the ground in front of horrified comrades and spectators. Two of the three crew – the pilot and flight engineer – were killed on impact. A third – the copilot – was rushed to hospital with serious head injuries. His condition is understood to be stable.
“Wherever there are military displays anywhere in the world, pilots tend to push their aircraft to the limits and fly low,” said a former military officer who witnessed the incident.
“This pilot was an excellent and experienced Hind pilot and this tragic incident it is no reflection on the competence of either the pilot or the Libyan Air Force,” he said. He added that such things could happen anywhere and to the very best of pilots.
The ceremony was to have celebrated the graduation of some thirty pilots and technicians who had just completed training by Sudanese Air Force instructors in Benghazi. It was, of course, immediately cancelled.
The shock and grief were evident at the base as people struggled to come to terms with what had happened. After the incident, many were crying.
Personnel from other branches of the military have now started visiting the base to pay their respects.