Thai airship crash hurts four

THAILAND - The Royal Thai Army's airship crashed yesterday while providing surveillance for Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's visit to Pattani, falling from an altitude of 15 metres.

Four crewmembers suffered minor injuries as they jumped from the aircraft before it hit the ground. The incident took place at around 3pm in a Pattani military camp as the airship was coming in for a landing.

As much as 50 per cent of the airship's body was damaged, a military spokesperson said. However, journalists and outsiders were prohibited from entering the crash site. The Fourth Army Region, which operates the airship, issued no comments.

Costing Bt350 million (S$14 million), the controversial airship was purchased around three years ago by the Army's then-chief Anupong Paochinda to provide surveillance in the South. Plagued with technical problems, the airship could not fly at a satisfactory altitude and was deemed too vulnerable for military operations.

Kept in a hangar in Pattani, it has flown only recently, making a surveillance flight last month during the Loy Krathong festival.

Around Bt25 million has been spent on upkeep and improvements to the airship, an A-40D Sky Dragon manufactured by the Worldwide Aeros Corporation. For a time, the airship was kept deflated, which caused leaks to develop. So Bt300,000 a month has been required to keep it filled with helium to prevent further leaks.

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