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Ursula von der Leyen in Mali

Helicopter pilots were "extremely experienced"

At Camp Castor in Mali, Federal Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen has spoken with Bundeswehr soldiers about the helicopter crash. She refuted doubts voiced about the experience or the training of the pilots. Both of the Bundeswehr pilots killed in the crash were extremely experienced and competent, declared the minister.

Federal Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen and military chaplain Andreas Bronder speak at the memorial service held in Camp Castor in the Malian town of Gao. Ursula von der Leyen has flown to Mali, where two Bundeswehr pilots were killed when their helicopter crashed Photo: picture alliance / Britta Pedersen

The flight data recorders have been recovered from the crash site north-east of Gao in Mali. They are severely damaged and will be returned to Germany where they will be evaluated in order to identify the precise cause of the accident.

Experts in the field have warned against drawing any premature conclusions. This was underscored by Federal Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen during her visit to Mali. She assured the team of her full support in the difficult task of seeking the cause of the incident. The experts, she said, should take the time they need to conduct their investigations with the necessary diligence.

On 27 July an investigation team led by the German Military Aviation Authority arrived in Mali. The team will be investigating what caused the helicopter to crash in Gao.

Bodies of the pilots repatriated

Last Saturday the bodies of the two pilots were repatriated. Their comrades paid their respects at an air force base near the city of Cologne.

Along with the comrades from the pilots’ base in Germany, their families and Federal Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen were there to meet them and pay tribute.

The Tiger helicopter crashed on 25 July about 70 kilometres north of Gao, killing the two soldiers on board. They belonged to the Bundeswehr contingent deployed as part of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). The cause of the crash is still unknown.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and Federal Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen have expressed their deepest sympathy to the families. "The entire Bundeswehr mourns the loss of these brave soldiers," declared Ursula von der Leyen.

"On behalf of the entire German government, the Chancellor conveys her deepest sympathy and condolences to the families of the two soldiers killed," reported deputy government spokesperson Ulrike Demmer on 25 July.

Both Bundeswehr officers were part of the Attack Helicopter Regiment 36, stationed at a base in the town of Fritzlar, in the state of Hesse.

Continuing to secure peace in Mali

Since the start of this year Germany has contributed more troops to support the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). The ceiling on troops was raised from 650 to 1,000. This step was necessary in order to close the gap left by the withdrawal of Dutch helicopters.

In the first three months of the year the German NH90 transport helicopters und the Tiger combat helicopters were transferred to Mali, where they are to be deployed until the end of June 2018.

One of the key purposes of the mission is still to foster ceasefire agreements and confidence-building measures with the parties to the conflict. In addition to its engagement within the framework of MINUSMA, Germany is involved in the European Union Training Mission (EUTM) in Mali.

Monday, 31 July 2017