21 March 2002 Edition
British chopper crash lands
Residents protest aerial danger
A British Army Puma helicopter crash landed into a South Armagh hillside on Saturday morning last, 16 March, highlighting again, says the South Armagh Framers and residents Association, the danger posed to residents by British aerial activity in the area. The helicopter was attempting to land at a spypost on Faughil Mountain near Jonesborough when it seemed to go into a spin and crashed into the side of the mountain. At least eight casualties were seen to be taken from the wreckage.
"Had this so-called "forced landing" occurred at either the Forkhill or Crossmaglen bases, we could have experienced multiple civilian fatalities from within the local community," said Toni Carragher, Secretary & PRO of the South Armagh Farmers & Resident Committee (SAFRC), whose exclusive shots we carry here.
At 10.20am on Saturday morning, a Puma helicopter spiralled out of control and crashed just 200 yards away from the home of Declan Fearon, which is situated at the foot of Faughil Mountain in South Armagh. Fearon is the Chairperson of the SAFRC, formed in September 1997 to campaign for demilitarisation of South Armagh following the resumption of the IRA cessation. He said that the crash was an accident waiting to happen.
Toni Carragher called for the immediate grounding of all British military aircraft in the South Armagh area, as this was the second incident in the Jonesborough area within the past two weeks and indeed one of many crashes in the South Armagh area over the past 20 years. The British government, together with the Ministry of Defence, "has successfully covered up previous crashes by stating that forced landings were necessary due to weather conditions", she said.
Declan Fearon, after alerting his committee colleagues to the Puma helicopter crash behind his home, was first on the scene. With a large presence of committee members and locals, Toni Carragher managed to secure several rolls of film as photographic evidence, which confirmed that this was no "forced landing".
"Maybe now those in authority will see the unwarranted danger that people in South Armagh are living with day and night," said Fearon. "The day has long passed when the British government can continue to argue that this high level of military activity is necessary in the current climate of peace. We call on the British government to begin a serious programme of demilitarisation, which is clearly long overdue."
Sinn Féin Councillor Packie McDonald, who was at the scene shortly after the crash, said: "An incident such as this happening today has been uppermost in people's minds because only last week in the same area of Jonesborough cargo being carried underneath a helicopter fell into the fields close to a house," he said. "Following this, on Thursday 14 March, residents in the Silverbridge area reported seeing a powder or liquid substance streaming from a cargo net underneath a helicopter.
"At the time Sinn Féin had warned about the danger involved by these constant low flying helicopters. People have lived in fear of something like this happening and this only reinforces the demand for an immediate halt to all helicopter activity in this area."