The NH90 crash: which possible cause?

In the aftermath of the accident involving the Italian Army NH90 crashing into the waters of Bracciano Lake, I was asked hundreds of questions. People who met me wanted to know what I had seen, others sent me an email, an SMS, other reached me on the telephone, many left a comment on this site. On June 2, some 9.000 unique visitors read the post on the NH90 accident with the image of the aircraft passing by the paddle boat before ditching and 15.600 have read the post since then. The question has always been the same: “what happened and why?”.
It is extremely difficult to answer. There’s an investigation in progress and it will provide the correct (and only answer). What I can say is what I saw and what I thought watching the aircraft performing its last maneuvers. They obviously represent my very personal ideas. So I think it is better to recall what I experienced and saw, because any other hyphotesis could not be confirmed until the final report will be released.

Here is my brief account:

I was attending the show along with many friends. We stationed to the right of the Italian Air Force Museum near the gate of the Vigna di Valle base, some 3 meters from the water. The weather conditions were not perfect: the sky was overcasted, ground temperature was around 25° C and humidity was very high. At around 15.03 the Frecce Tricolori made the last passage and 5 minutes later the NH90, coming more or less from Anguillara, began its display in front of the public. We were amazed by the show provided by the helicopter, it looked to many of us much interesting, since the helicopter flew closer to the public than in a normal airshow.
At around 15.15 the NH90 made a turn in front of us, from our left to the right, accelerating.

The following Youtube video ends at that moment.

Seconds later the aircraft flying low level climbed to perform a fiesler. The apex of the maneuver looked low to me and, as the aircraft was diving, I realized that it was almost impossible it could recover before hitting the water.

This is a video (from Studio Aperto) from Youtube showing the helicopter hitting the surface of the lake

And this shows the accident from another point of view.

As soon as I saw the aircraft nearing the water I shot the 4 pictures in sequence (using my Canon EOS D10 with 80-400mm Sigma OS lens and 1.4x Sigma teleconverter, Tv mode, shutter priority, 1/640s, ISO 100 f5.6) that I published here.

I remember seeing the chopper, nose high in a desperate attempt to level off before the water and then seeing it almost exploding in myriad pieces.
I could not believe what I had just witnessed and I was shocked like all the other spectators

The accident immediately reminded me the Su-27 crash that occurred on Sept 9, 1990 at Salgareda, near Treviso, when the Lithuanian astronaut and test pilot Rimantas Antanas Stankevicius misestimated a loop meneuvre that he could not complete before crashing into the ground.

Here’s a documentary dealing with that accident with some footage.

I think the root cause of the NH90 crash could be the same. I obviously don’t know whether the helicopter experienced a failure during the display or not. I however had the feeling that the fiesler had a low apex. In order to have an idea of the expected altitude of that maneuver just have a look at the Youtube video of the NH90 display in Pratica di Mare, a week before the accident.

Around 4:23 minutes of the above video, you see the aircraft starting the same maneuver. A few seconds later it seems to reach a higher altitude than that reached during the display above Bracciano Lake.
Perhaps, during the tragic display, the NH90 began the maneuver at a lower altitude (or speed) and was not able to complete it.

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.