An Italian Unifil helicopter on a routine flight to Beirut was forced to make an emergency landing near Sidon yesterday after an engine overheated.
The helicopter, one of four Augusta Bells in service with Unifil, landed on the beach beside the city’s garbage dump after the pilot realised that one of the aircraft’s engines was overheating and chose not to continue to Beirut.
Lebanese soldiers protected the helicopter while a second Unifil aircraft landed nearby carrying technicians who were able to repair the malfunctioning engine.
The helicopter continued on its way to Beirut after a four-hour delay, escorted by the second helicopter.
The fleet of helicopters were supplied to Unifil by the Italian government and are flown by pilots belonging to the 52-strong Italian contingent.
Italian president Oscar Luigi Scalfaro was due to board one of the helicopters for a tour of Unifil’s headquarters in Naqoura today.
“We will not be using this helicopter for president Scalfaro’s visit, which means that as we only have three available some of the entourage may have to come by road,” said Timur Goksel, Unifil’s political advisor.
But Goksel ruled out any connection between yesterday’s malfunction and the cause of a crash last August in which an Augusta Bell blew up near Bint Jbeil, killing its crew of four Italians and an Irish soldier.