A French Army NH90 Caiman helicopter deployed to Mali as part of Operation Barkhane spent 48 hours in the middle of the Mali desert waiting for repairs, after making an emergency landing when one of its engines shot down, according to French media reports.
The tactical transport helicopter belonging to the Army Aviation command (ALAT) suffered a serious engine failure on April 1 around noon. Thanks to its remaining engine, the machine was able to make an emergency landing in the desert, without suffering too much damage. The French army had to fly a new engine by helicopter to the accident site, and carry out repairs in a hostile environment, thanks to a special small crane that is mounted aircraft airframe, and not on the ground.
At the same time, a large armed detachment was deployed to protect the crew, the mechanics and the aircraft against the risk of attack by the local jihadist groups that Barkhane Force is fighting in the Sahelo-Saharan band.
The stranded helicopter was a prime target, but no incident interfered with the repairs, says French Army spokesman Colonel Patrik Steiger, told the French weekly Le Point. He declined to specify the exact location of the incident and the number of troops engaged for obvious operational security reasons. The Caiman was able to return to the air 48 hours later.
"Such a breakdown is a ‘first’ for us," ALAT commander General Michel Grintchenko told Le Point. "It is part of the unforeseen combat circumstances and we were able to react because we had enough helicopters in the area.”