Wrong helicopter photo shared in posts about Thai factory fire

Copyright AFP 2017-2021. All rights reserved.

After a fire at a plastics factory in Thailand injured dozens, a photo surfaced in Facebook posts purporting to show a Royal Thai Army helicopter and questioning why the chopper was not deployed to quell the blaze. The claim is misleading; the photo actually shows a helitanker during an exercise in the United States in 2020. Meanwhile, a second photo in the posts genuinely shows a Thai helicopter.

The photos were published here on Facebook on July 5, 2021. 

"The Royal Thai Army has chinook, the forest department has a helicopter with a water bucket, why didn't anybody collaborate with them?" the Thai-language post's caption reads. 

Chinook refers to a type of military, heavy-lift helicopter.

( Montira RUNGJIRAJITTRANON)

The images circulated online after an explosion at a plastics factory near the Thai capital Bangkok sent plumes of smoke across the skyline, killing one firefighter and injuring at least 33 people, AFP reported.

The photos were also shared on Facebook here and here alongside a similar claim. 

The images, however, have been shared in a misleading context.

First photo

A reverse image search on Google found the first photo was published in this article by the US-based blog site Fire Aviation on November 19, 2020.

Below is a screenshot comparison of the photo in the misleading post (L) and on the Fire Aviation website (R): 

"A CH-47 Chinook Very Large Helitanker (VLHT) with night-flying capability operated by Coulson Aviation is working under an 83-day contract in collaboration with Southern California Edison (SCE) and the Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA)," the article reads.

"The Chinook is based at the Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base in Orange County".

The photo was screenshotted from this  footage tweeted by Orange County Fire Authority (OFCA) on November 19, 2020.

The clip shows the helitanker exercise, which was coordinated by  L.A. County Fire Department  and the Orange County Fire Authority (OFCA). 

Second photo

The second photo genuinely shows a Thai helicopter.

Reverse image searches for the second photo found it was previously published in this 2016 report by Thai news site Manager Online.

The Thai government staged a demonstration to show how the helicopter was used to extinguish fires in Phitsanulok province, the report says.

"Helicopter owned by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment was used to extinguish wildfire in Nan, using the water from Nan River, in the middle of a campaign to stop burning the forest," the Thai-language article reads.

Below is a screenshot comparison of the photo in the misleading post (L) and on the Manager Online website (R): 

Thailand's Forest Department operates under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.

The photo was also published in another report about the event by a Thai-language website here

CORRECTION: This article was updated on July 12, 2021 to clarify that the Facebook posts claimed the photos showed Thai helicopters, but not necessarily Thai helicopters at the scene of the plastics factory fire.