The Air Force grounded its remaining seven Sokol helicopters after one crashed in Marawi City last Thursday.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, for his part, ordered the Air Force to report the crash to the company that made the helicopters, which the government acquired just recently.

“PAF was directed to inform the Sokol maufacturer about the incident,” Gazmin said Friday, adding that the Air Force is now investigating the crash.

Lieutenant Colonel Enrico Canaya, Air Force spokesman, said the remaining Sokol units will be grounded until investigators determine what caused the crash.

A 21-member “investigating and recovery team” led by Col. Frederick Cutler, of Air Force Safety Office, arrived in Marawi from Villamor Air Base yesterday to carry out the probe, Canaya told reporters.

“The Sokol helicopters will not be used for the meantime but we still have other helicopters to fill up the gap,” he said.

The Sokol helicopter no. 291 crashed around 2:30 p.m. Thursday, shortly after taking off from the Army 103rd Brigade’s Kampo Ranao headquarters in Brgy. Saber.

It was supposed to escort two other helicopters carrying Gazmin, Interior Sec. Mar Roxas, and Energy Sec. Jericho Petilla to Cagayan de Oro City.

The ill-fated chopper’s passengers, including Army 4th Infantry Division chief Maj. Gen. Ricardo Visaya, escaped unharmed but its gunner and a civilian child playing near the crash site were injured.

The government bought eight brand new Sokol helicopters from the joint venture of Polish manufacturer PZL-Swidnik and British-Italian firm AugustaWestland for P2.8 billion.

The units arrived in batches in February 2012, November 2012, and February 2013.

The helicopters were supposed be used for combat support operations but were eventually assigned to the Air Force’s 505th Search and Rescue Group, after its side door and gun mount were found “unfit” for the military’s tactics.

They are now being used to conduct rescue operations in times of calamities and transporting VIPs.

The incident in Marawi was not the first time for the Sokol units to encounter problems.

In July 2013, another Sokol helicopter (no. 925) was stuck for five days in Camp Aguinaldo after failing to take off due to an undisclosed mechanical problem.

That helicopter was supposed to escort the group of Gazmin to an Air Force event in Pampanga. (John Roson)

– end –