US military: Pilot error caused Black Hawk crash

2015-06-04 22:27
A serviceperson collects debris along the beach of what might be the wreckage of an UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter in Navarre. (Tony Giberson, AP)

A serviceperson collects debris along the beach of what might be the wreckage of an UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter in Navarre. (Tony Giberson, AP)

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Washington - A US Black Hawk helicopter crash that killed 11 troops off Florida's coast in March was caused by pilot error, as the air crew became disoriented in heavy fog, investigators said on Thursday.

The pilots in the March 10 crash also violated orders by deciding to fly in conditions with lower clouds and less visibility than permitted, according to the results of a military probe into the crash obtained by AFP.

The Irish Times first reported the results of the investigation. One of the 11 victims of the crash, US Marine special forces Sergeant Liam Flynn, was a native of Ireland's County Kildare.

"The [investigation] board determined that the direct cause of this accident was spatial disorientation of both pilots which caused them to lose control of the aircraft," it said.

Faced with dense fog, the pilots of the UH-60 chopper failed to use the helicopter's instruments to fly even though visibility had dramatically deteriorated, it said.

"The flight data recorder and the cockpit communications transcripts indicate increasingly erratic flight control inputs and anxious verbal exchanges as both pilots tried, yet failed, to gain control of the aircraft," it said.

The confused pilots rapidly climbed and descended, radically changed airspeed and spun the aircraft, it said.

At one point a pilot says over the radio that he is "pulling back to the East" when "in fact he had turned to the North", the report said.

About two minutes and five seconds after flying over water, the Black Hawk plunged into Santa Rosa Sound, off the Florida panhandle.

The crash killed all aboard the aircraft, including the four-member air crew from the Louisiana National Guard and 11 US Marines from the corps' special forces. The flight had been arranged to conduct night time training for the Marines.

Chief Warrant Officer George Griffin, the air mission commander, had assured colleagues at the air field that the weather forecast was "good tonight," though he did not deliver a detailed briefing on the weather conditions, the report said.

Commanders had issued orders that flights for similar missions could not proceed unless clouds were no lower than 300m and visibility was at least at 4.8km. Even though the conditions failed to meet those minimum levels, the pilots went ahead with the flight.

Other air crews had misgivings about the poor weather, but chose not to challenge Griffin, the report said.

"During the run-up of both aircraft, individuals exhibited trepidation regarding the weather and the lack of ambient illumination. However, no one spoke up and questioned the wisdom to conduct the mission," it said.

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