A British army helicopter got into difficulties in South Armagh on Thursday and almost came down in a residential area.
The helicopter was travelling over Camlough Lake when the noise of its engine changed. Local people say it was clearly in trouble and it diverted to an installation at Sturgan Mountain, flying over a number of homes en route.
The British army claimed the flight was aborted as a precaution after a mail bag “blew” into the tail rotor of the Lynx chopper. However, locals have insisted the chopper experienced a mechanical fault mid-flight and a disaster was narrowly averted.
Brian Finnegan from the South Armagh Demilitarisation Committee said the incident highlights the fears experienced by local people and called on the British army to leave the area.
The British Army is still avoiding the use of road transport in South Armagh, insisting it could come under attack by breakaway republican groups.
“People are rightly worried about this. It’s long past time they were gone,” he said.
“They are serving no purpose in the world. They are under no threat from the community. But they threaten people by flying around in these machines. These facilities need to go. We don’t know the extent of the damage they are causing to the countryside or the radiation they emit is causing to people in the area.
“This situation puts a lot of stress on people. People around the country are not aware of the torture being experienced by people living along the Border. Helicopters coming and going all day and night.”
Sinn Féin Assembly member for Newry & Armagh Conor Murphy called for all British army helicopters to be grounded until the cause of the mechanical fault is discovered.
“There have been serious concerns expressed over a number of years about the safety record of British military equipment in South Armagh,” Mr Murphy said. “There is no purpose to the continuing low-level flights in the area and no purpose behind the ongoing presence of British spy posts on our hillsides. Given the nature of this very serious incident this morning I am demanding that all British military helicopters in this area are immediately grounded.”
Yesterday’s incident was the second involving a Lynx helicopter in just over a year.
Last March a similar aircraft was forced to ditch on a beach at Portrush after experiencing mechanical difficulties. All crew escaped unhurt. In December 2003 a British army Gazelle helicopter crashed at playing fields in Derry City with the loss of two crew.