"Helicopter crashed due to miscommunication with tower"

The crew of a military helicopter that crashed in Belgrade on March 13 "failed to properly communicate" with Nikola Tesla Airport's civilian flight control.

Source: B92

This is contained in the annexes to the report submitted by a commission set up to carry out a "basic investigation" of the crash that killed seven people on board: four crew members, two medical workers from Novi Pazar, and a baby they were transporting from this southwestern town.

According to the annexes, published on the Serbian Ministry of Defense's website (in Serbian) along with photo documentation and audio recordings, mistakes and miscommunication occurred during the last two minutes of the flight that played a key role in the accident.

"The crew reported altitude of 140 meters, having in mind their altitude above the runway, to which the flight controller did not react, expecting that the pilot was referring to altitude above sea level - which is standard procedure for civilian aircraft," the report said.

It added that, considering that the pilot was referring to real altitude, air traffic control did not warn him that he will be unable to see the runway from there, due to low cloud cover.

"The controller and the crew did not share the same way of thinking and were not used to working together," said the document.

It added that the air traffic controller recommended to the pilot to hover over the runway, which this type of helicopter was unable to do "without outside visibility."

"The (altitude) difference between sea level and the airport is 98 meters," the report said, and noted that more problems occurred "during the communication about the final destination of the mission."

The decision to head for the airport was made at around 20:30 CET after weather conditions "at the VMA (military clinic)" were appraised, and while the helicopter was still en route to Raska. "It was at this time arranged to make room for two ambulances and the minister of health's vehicle," the document said.

However, the crew was informed about the change of destination more than an hour later.

"The change of destination in mid-flight affected unfavorably the carrying out of the task, because the crew was not sufficiently acquainted with the airport and had shortened time to prepare," it is stated on page 33 of the annex to the second report.

The transcripts show that pilot Omer Mehic continues to speak about "landing at the VMA" up until 21:37 CET, when he was informed about the change of destination, after which he asked for information related to landing at the airport.

The report added that the weather conditions worsened during the flight, but that the crew did not receive "enough information" about that.


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