A British Army Agusta Westland Lynx AH.9A utility helicopter crashed in southern Afghanistan on 26 April, with the loss of all five on aboard, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has confirmed.
The Army Air Corps (AAC) Lynx was on a routine training mission in Kandahar province when the accident happened, an MoD statement said. While the cause is being investigated, enemy action is not thought to have been a factor.
The Lynx AH.9A was upgraded specifically with the Afghan campaign in mind. A total of 22 AH.9 helicopters were fitted with the more powerful new LHTEC CTS800-4N turboshaft (producing nearly 40% more power than the standard Rolls-Royce Gem 42 engine) to better cope with the 'hot and high' environmental conditions in theatre.
Other improvements include an updated instrument panel, digital displays, modified gearbox and rear structure to accommodate the new powerplant. The helicopter has also been fitted with a door-mounted FN Herstal M3M (GAU-21) 0.50 cal (12.7 mm) heavy machine gun, along with the standard 7.62 mm general-purpose machine gun and improved surveillance equipment.
An undisclosed number of AH.9A helicopters have been operating out of Camp Bastion, Helmand province, since May 2010.
While the investigation is ongoing the MoD will not speculate on possible causes for the incident, which has resulted in the third-worst loss of life of UK forces in Afghanistan in a single incident (a Royal Air Force Nimrod surveillance aircraft crashed following an in-flight fire in 2006 with the loss of all 14 onboard, and in 2012 six soldiers died when their Warrior fighting vehicle was destroyed by a roadside bomb).
Since first deploying in late 2001 the UK has lost: two Boeing Chinooks and a Westland Sea King/Commando shot down by the Taliban (though the Sea King was later repaired and returned to service); a Boeing Apache helicopter written-off due to 'brownout' on take-off; and a Chinook and an AgustaWestland Merlin seriously damaged in hard landings.
None of these incidents resulted in fatalities. An undisclosed number of Lynx helicopters were also damaged during a freak hailstorm that hit Kandahar Airfield in April 2013.
Setting aside the risks of enemy action, Afghanistan is an extremely hostile environment for conducting helicopter operations. The fine sand and dust clog filters and wear down parts, while the 'hot and high' conditions mean helicopters are constantly operating at the edge of their performance envelopes, and the harsh topography creates an ever-present danger of controlled flight into terrain.
These environmental risks are demonstrated in coalition-wide statistics that show that in 13 years of combat operations more than 80% of the more than 100 helicopters lost have been attributed to 'non-combat' related reasons.