SEOUL --- This week's deadly military chopper crash could affect the Marine Corps' plan to deploy dozens of its indigenous helicopters, an official said Wednesday, amid a probe into whether it was caused by technical defects or pilot error.
On Tuesday, the MUH-1 Marineone, the Marine variant of the KUH-1 Surion helicopter, crashed at a military airport in the south-eastern city of Pohang on Tuesday, killing five of the six Marines aboard and injuring the other.
The helicopter was on a test flight in Pohang, some 370 kilometers southeast of Seoul, after repair work when it went down from a height of about 10 meters and caught fire, Marine Corps officials said.
"We are leaving open all possibilities (including potential chopper defects)," a marine official told Yonhap News Agency, declining to be named.
"Well, it may not be totally impossible (for the crash to affect the procurement plan) as we have to carry out the investigation to verify the causes ... It depends on the results of the probe," he added.
The pilot of the chopper is known to be a veteran member with flight experience of some 3,300 hours, one reason why marines are not ruling out the possibility that the accident could be attributable to potential defects of the helicopter.
Military authorities have launched a joint investigation team involving officials from the Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Defense Agency for Technology and Quality and the Army's aviation operations command.
The Marine Corps has planned to introduce a total of 28 Marineones by 2023. It has already brought in four Marineones, but three of them have been grounded following the accident. It remains uncertain whether the plan to receive two more Marineones in the latter half of this year will proceed as planned.
Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), the developer of the chopper, said it would cooperate with the investigation if it is called on to join it, while expressing condolences for the five marines killed in the accident.
"Our position at this point is to actively support (the investigation) if the military needs our technical support," a KAI official told Yonhap. "We are currently on standby and closely watching the situation, as we have yet to receive any call from the probe team."
The Marines received the helicopters in January for transporting its service members and equipment. The MUH-1s are the first major aircraft in the possession of the 28,000-strong troops since they were integrated into the Navy in 1973.
Meanwhile, the Marine Corps has decided to promote the five deceased soldiers by one rank each