Last weekend the Belgium military was taking part in an Air Show at Liege in Belgium where hundreds of spectators had gathered to witness the air displays. The air force was using the Agusta109, a small helicopter, which has a good safety record. The exercise involved three soldiers jumping out of the chopper and parachuting down to earth. The helicopter took off after the mandatory pre flight checks and had reached a height of about 600 meters. The co-pilot helped the three soldiers parachute down when he noticed the pilot was missing and the door open.

He took control of the chopper and was able to land where he raised the alarm about his missing crew member.

A rare occurrence

A pilot falling off a plane is a very rare occurrence and one will have to search the history books to discover when the last time a pilot fell from a helicopter during peace time operations. The opening of the door of the helicopter in mid-flight is rare and points to a lack of proper maintenance and safety procedures of the machine. The pilot is supposed to be wearing a seat belt and the only way he can fall out is if he was not wearing one.

The fire service and the police were pressed into service to find the body of the pilot, who did not have a parachute, which was recovered close to a valley at Amay near Liege yesterday.

The reason for the pilot's fall remains a mystery, but suicide is being investigated as a possible motive.

Effect of World War II

Belgium was neutral during World War Ii and had a very small army. Adolf Hitler disregarded the neutrality of Belgium and the Wehrmacht launched an invasion of France in 1940 by advancing through Belgium.

The army surrendered and Hitler went onto defeat France inside 40 days. After the war, the lesson was not lost on Belgium and for its safety, it became a member of NATO and maintains a very small army and air force as its defence and responsibility to NATO.

The accident

This accident of a pilot falling from a helicopter is not the best advertisement of the efficacy of its military.

I have flown for two decades and never heard of such an incident.

The Agusta 109 light helicopter has a good track record. It has been in service for over two decades and is widely used by both civil and military establishments all over the European Union.The door which has a hydraulic lock cannot open on its own. An inquiry will be conducted but the loss of a trained aircrew member during an exercise like an air show is unacceptable.