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Apache crash investigation still in progress: officials

TAIPEI -- A probe into the recent crash of an AH-64E Apache attack helicopter in Taiwan is still ongoing and the investigation report will not be ready until late June, military officials said Monday in response to a local media report that pilot error was the cause of the accident.

Denying the report in the Chinese-language United Daily News (UDN), a military official familiar with the matter said the investigation is still in progress and it will take least 45 days from the date of the April 25 crash before the report can be completed.

The investigation is being carried out by a task force assembled by the Ministry of National Defense and the Army and also includes U.S. technicians and representatives from the Cabinet-level Aviation Safety Council, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, in response to CNA's request to comment on the UDN report.

The task force will determine whether human error or mechanical failure was the cause of the crash.

Defense ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Luo Shou-he confirmed that investigation report will not be released to the public until the end of June, at the earliest, after it has been reviewed by a team of experts selected by the ministry.

The UDN news article said the investigation found that the helicopter's pilot failed to respond properly to changes in weather conditions.

The Apache, one of 18 that have been delivered to Taiwan by the U.S. since last November, was conducting flight training when it crashed into the top of a three-story residential building in Longtan Township in Taoyuan County, damaging four homes but causing no serious injuries. The two pilots on board were unhurt except for minor scratches.

Shortly after the crash, flight instructor Maj. Chen Lung-chien, said changes in humidity and temperature had fogged up the cockpit windshield, forcing him to try to climb above the cloud ceiling, and the helicopter's night-vision features had proved useless.

With no reference points in the clouds, Chen said, he tried as best he could to keep the helicopter horizontal but because of the lack of visibility and low altitude, the aircraft crashed onto the building.

The helicopter was part of a NT$59.31 billion (US$2.01 billion) order for 30 of the newest Apache models that are being used only by the U.S. and now Taiwan.

Shortly after the April 25 crash, Taiwan's 17 other Apaches were grounded, but according to the unnamed military official, they were put back into service earlier this month.

Under the deal that was decided in 2008 during the U.S. administration of then President George W. Bush, the helicopters are being delivered in five shipments that is expected to be completed in July.

The fourth shipment is expected to arrive in Taiwan in late June, one month behind schedule because of cargo shipping issues, according to the unnamed military official.

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