Media Statement by Lim Kit Siang in Parliament on Monday, 3rd November 2008: 

Are Nuris “flying coffins”? If not, why not just upgrade them for a few hundred million ringgit instead of billion-ringgit purchase of 40-yr-old Cougars?

Are Nuris “flying coffins”? If not, why not just upgrade them for a few hundred million ringgit, a small fraction of the cost as compared to the billion-ringgit purchase of Cougar EC725 Eurocopters, which are 40-year-old Cougars in any event?

This is one important question which the Public Accounts Committee should probe, answer and report to Parliament by before the end of the month in its current inquiry into the billion-ringgit Cougar EC725 Eurocopter deal fiasco.

The Deputy Defence Minister, Datuk Abu Seman Yusop, in his winding-up on behalf of the Defence Ministry in the 2009 Budget debate on Thursday, was not only unable to rebut allegations concerning very grave issues about propriety, accountability and professionalism in the decision-making process in the tender for the helicopters to replace the Nuris , but reinforced concerns of unprofessional and below-par leadership running the Defence Ministry.

This raises the even more vital question whether Malaysian defence and security as well as the lives and welfare of the armed services personnel are really in safe and trustworthy hands and the topmost priority of those in the highest echelons of the Defence Ministry.

This is apparent from the video (embedded here) of the parliamentary grilling of Abu Seman by Pakatan Rakyat MPs in Parliament on Thursday.

I have received an email which make my question, “Are Nuris ‘flying coffins’? If not, why not just upgrade them for a small fraction of the cost of buying old Cougars?”, most relevant and pertinent, and which should be the subject of the current PAC inquiry.

This email from a former Nuri pilot claimed that 85 % of the RMAF Nuri crashes were due to human error, 10 % enemy aggression and another 5 % only maybe technical.

He also said that the RMAF Nuris are still “good for another 20 years and more”, having “very low airframe hours, with an average of 9000 hours per aircraft” as compared to “worldwide standard for this type of helicopter currently is more than 50,000 hours and some even reaching 60,000 hours”.

I am no spokesman or defender for Nuris, but the issues raised of a great public importance on national defence and the safety of RMAF personnel, and deserve a full investigation by PAC.

I am circulating a copy of this press statement to all the PAC members for their action. The email I have received is as follows:


In the tender process for the replacement of the Nuri helicopters (Sikorsky S61A), the Nuri helicopter had been portrayed here as cause for all the crashes. This is not true and very prejudicial for the image of Sikorsky aircraft, manufactured by the leading helicopter manufacturer Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation, USA who have also built well known aircraft like the CH53 Golly Green Giants, the legendry Blackhawks which had seen 2 Iraq wars and others like the S76C which are widely used in the offshore oil industry and the Nuri S61, Sea Kings. Needless to say Sikorsky helicopters are flown all over the world in the military, commercial, VIP and offshore oil industry.

The RMAF bought 40 Nuri in 1968. Over the years the Nuris have served Malaysia with distinction and is still flying. The Malaysian Armed Forces, especially the Army should be grateful as they had used them extensively during Malaysian Communist Emergency warfare. There are many servicemen today who must thank their present existence to the Nuri which had rescued them especially from the war zone infested with Communist Terrorists. Several Nuris were loss during this insurgency phase which came to a conclusion in 1989. There are many senior Armed forces officers who will be willing to provide their testimonies to the goodness of the Nuri helicopter.

RMAF has operated the Nuris for 40 years now. In any operation of this duration there will be a number of accidents. Accidents could be due to bad weather, poor terrain visibility, technical error, human error and maybe act of God. There are a number of casualties that has involved human lives both from the military and the civilian population. The RMAF lost a number of the Nuris in accidents and enemy action and is still operating 28 Nuris both in Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah/Sarawak. I am sure that if we were to check the records for these accidents, 85 % of these would be due to human error, 10 % enemy aggression and another 5 % only maybe technical. RMAF should be able to provide these statistics to prove the point on this before we go around shouting ‘change the heli’. I suppose that’s what happens when one gets old and when a new one comes along. “Sudah tua punya pasal, bukan sebab dia ta’baik lagi.”

In the press statement in STAR on the 29th, the DPM and former Defence Minister said, “we cannot forget the safety of our armed forces personnel and other Nuri passengers in the decision making process involving the purchase of Eurocopters”. Does the Minister mean to say that all the accidents are caused by the Nuri aircraft? This is definitely not so. More than 1000 of the S61s were produced and to date more than 600 are still flying in the commercial and military field. Even the seven S61s flown by MHS with over 40,000 hours clocked in each aircraft in Malaysia has not had any accidents involving any casualties. As a former Nuri pilot, I know for sure that most accidents in the RMAF are caused by human error- operational situation, lack of experience and poor decision making. This is in view that the aircraft is not fully equipped for adverse weather flying conditions that have led to these many accidents. So under these conditions, even if they have been given the best of aircraft, do you think there will not be any accidents?

I must congratulate our Prime Minister for stopping the Eurocopter chopper purchase. At a time like this you have made a very wise decision. With the current global financial fallout we must not get caught with a huge buy like this. We should continue using the Nuris as they are still in good condition. Our Nuris aircraft have very low airframe hours, with an average of 9000 hours per aircraft. Whereas, the worldwide standard for this type of helicopter currently is more than 50,000 hours and some even reaching 60,000 hours. More than 1000 of these machines have been produced and used by many countries especially the military services. There is still plenty of airframe life in these Malaysian Nuris and will be good for another 20 years and more. So why do we need to spend so much to purchase new aircraft. Why not upgrade our Nuris now to suit the current requirements which will only cost a small fraction of buying the old Cougar.

I had previously suggested that the PAC should invite representatives from all the aircraft manufactures who had submitted bids for the helicopter tender to appear to help the PAC in its inquiry.

The PAC should in particular invite representatives from Sikorsky to make a professional submission whether the Nuri helicopters (Sikorsky S61A) are “flying coffins” whose continued use constitute a constant danger to the welfare and lives of the RMAF personnel concerned to help the PAC in its inquiry and report to Parliament.
Even more important, PAC should invite pilots and former pilots of RMAF Nuri to testify to enable the PAC to answer the question which I have posed.

* Lim Kit Siang,  DAP Parliamentary leader & MP for Ipoh Timor