AN air ambulance helicopter has been forced to make an emergency landing in a field after colliding with power lines.
The alert occurred just two weeks after the service was launched.
The Air Corps EC-135 was en route from Athlone, Co Westmeath, to Borrisoleigh, Co Tipperary, to bring a patient to a Limerick hospital when the collision occurred 20-minutes after take off.
The helicopter was carrying three people -- two Air Corps crew and a Health Service Executive paramedic. Nobody was injured during the incident, which was described as "a heavy landing" by the Justice, Equality and Defence Department.
Investigations are continuing into why the helicopter collided with the power lines.
The aircraft has wire-cutters positioned above the cabin and below the rotor blades to help deal with such an event, but it's not known what part of the aircraft struck the power lines as the main rotor blades and tail rotor appear undamaged. After receiving a call to collect a male patient in Borrisoleigh, the helicopter left Custume Barracks, Athlone, at 1.50pm.
It struck into the power lines shortly after 2.10pm while approaching Borrisoleigh. A HSE spokesman described what happened as a "wire strike".
After the collision, the helicopter was forced to land in a field two miles outside of Borrisoleigh along the main Nenagh road. The extent of damage to the helicopter has yet to be determined, but it's thought the fuselage was damaged.
Following the landing, a road ambulance brought the patient from Borrisoleigh to University Hospital Limerick. He arrived at the hospital shortly before 3pm.
Gardai were at the scene in Tipperary yesterday, along with ESB personnel, who were attempting to assess damage to the overhead power lines.
The Air Accident Investigation Unit in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport has been informed of the incident. Contingency plans are being put in place to resume the EAS (Emergency Aeromedical Service) as soon as possible.
The service was launched on June 4 on a 12-month basis. Health Minister James Reilly said the air ambulance would treat people with acute medical conditions.
It is staffed by paramedic crew from the National Ambulance Service and is based in Athlone. It is estimated the helicopter will cost €1m annually to run and will be funded by the HSE.
The Air Corps has two EC-135 helicopters on strength which are used for a variety of tasks, including operations with Special Forces.