Villagers in Crossmaglen, South Armagh are outraged after a British Army helicopter crashed, narrowly missing a nearby estate.
Six PSNI members and British Army personnel were injured as the Lynx helicopter came down in bad weather, but none seriously.
Witnesses said the helicopter, which was carrying seven people, appeared to have developed mechanical difficulties and narrowly missed the roofs of homes in Lismore Park.
The aircraft came down in a playing field less than 100 yards from houses.
Local youths later clashed with British forces at the site. Sinn Féin condemned the mini-riot, but unionists still complained that the party had allowed the clashes to develop. There were also reports that an ambulance had been blocked from reaching the site, although these were later denied.
“What really concerns me is the complete lack of political leadership on the ground in Crossmaglen from republican leaders telling young people that this sort of behaviour is totally unacceptable and it must stop,” said North Antrim DUP Assembly member Ian Paisley jnr.
Asked if he condemned those who “hampered” police and ambulance activity, Newry and Armagh MP Conor Murphy Murphy said: “Yes. Not only did we stop them doing that, we took action on the ground. Other people were commenting on this. I did not see another single elected representative apart from Sinn Féin personnel on the ground here.”
Routine low-flying helicopter flights have provocatively continued in and out of the heavily fortified base, despite the Provisional IRA’s ceasefire some 13 years ago.
An important Gaelic football match in the town was recently halted when a low helicopter buzzed the pitch. Despite repeated promises that the base will soon be demilitarised, angry residents fear lives may yet be lost to a chopper accident.
Politicians in the area said all helicopter flights should be grounded.
“As well as the oppression and harassment that these helicopters are responsible for, there has always been a fear that one would crash in a residential area,” Mr Murphy said.
“The bad weather forced the cancellation of all sorts of flights and ferries, yet still the British army thinks it’s OK to fly low over Crossmaglen,” he addded.
“This crash could have been much worse and residents are relieved that they were spared the potential carnage.”
A British Army spokesman would not reveal the circumstances of the crash.
“There are subtle differences between emergency landings, crash landings and forced landings,” a British Army spokesman said, without explanation.