Wednesday, 16 Jan 2019
World

The Marine Corps aviation disaster that killed 16 people raises new questions about the safety of US military aircraft

Above the southeastern United States, a maritime transport aircraft was operating at an altitude of 20,000 feet on a clear day when the disaster occurred.

A corroded propeller blade on the KC-130T's left wing is detached, piercing a gaping hole in the fuselage. This caused a chain reaction during which an opposite wing propeller detached and passed through the aircraft. The plane shattered into explosions and plunged into a soybean field near the Itta Bena town in Mississippi.

These are part of the findings of a Marine Corps investigation released Thursday about an accident that occurred on July 10, 2017, which killed 15 Marines and a sailor. The service determined that the disaster was preventable and resulted from an unnoticed fatigue crack on the first released propeller blade, resulting in the most lethal aviation service incident in more than a dozen years. years.

The plane – call sign Yanky 72 – has never had a chance.

"Neither the flight crew nor anyone on board the KC-130T could have prevented or altered the end result after such a failure," Brig. General Bradley S. James, Commander in Chief of 4 Wing Navy Aircraft, wrote to evaluate the accident.

The investigation renewed the question of whether the US military, after 17 years of war, met the requirements of maintaining an aging fleet of aircraft.

The report was released as US and Japanese officials searched for survivors in an incident in which an F / A-18 Hornet and a KC-130 tanker aircraft appeared to collide during a refueling operation in fuel off the southwestern coast of Japan. On Thursday, one Marine was rescued, another was declared dead and five were missing.

The Mississippi accident investigation cites several groups for handling the aircraft prior to the accident, including Air Force maintenance officers at the Warner Robins (Georgia) logistics complex, where corrosion of the first The propeller blade that had broken should have been noticed during the intensive service. six years ago.

The investigation found that failures in the review process at Robins continued until 2017, prompting the US military to temporarily land dozens of similar planes.

The investigators also asked why the Navy Department had not discovered earlier deficient work on his aircraft at Robins. And he added that the unit in charge of the plane – the 452 Air Supply Squadron Air Transport Squadron of Newburgh, NY – had not put in place any formal procedure to track the inspections manual propeller blades. Investigators found that the crack had become large enough for squadron members to find it during routine safety checks.

Among the other fatal incidents that occurred this year, there was a WC-130H transport plane crash in Georgia in May that killed nine members of the Puerto Rico National Guard, an Apache helicopter crash to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, in April, which killed two soldiers, and the crash of an F / A-18F Super Hornet that crashed in March off Key West, Florida, killing two airmen from Marine.

Dozens of service personnel have been killed in similar accidents over the last five years. A survey of the Military Times newspaper published in April revealed that between 2013 and 2017, the number of aviation accidents had increased by 39%, from 656 to 909. During the same period period, the number of hours of flight training pilots dropped due to the effects of Congressionally imposed budget cuts and the need to keep aircraft available focused on operations, including the wars in Iraq, in Afghanistan and Syria.

Senior Pentagon officials said the trend was not a crisis, but Defense Secretary Jim Mattis warned lawmakers last spring that the reduction in the number of devices ready to be used and the time Passed in the cockpit by the pilots will take time to be corrected and will require money. More recently, defense officials have suggested that they are beginning to improve the availability of aircraft.

The plane involved in the Mississippi crash was 24 years old – it was younger than some US military planes, but was one of the latest "T" models of the Marine Corps KC-130. The plane needs to be replaced by the newer, the KC-130J. The WH-130H that crashed in Georgia was over 50 years old and was on its last scheduled flight.

Among the dead in the Mississippi accident were seven members of an elite Marine Raider team from Camp Lejeune, NC, a personal sgt. Robert Cox, 28; Staff Sgt. William J. Kundrat, 33 years old; Sgt. Chad E. Jenson, 25; Sgt. Talon R. Leach, 27 years old; Sgt. Joseph J. Murray, 26 years old; Sgt. Dietrich A. Schmieman, 26 years old; and Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Ryan M. Lohrey, 30 years old. They were members of the Navy Special Operations Command (MARSOC), a force of less than 3,000 men.

The others killed came from the transport squadron. Caine M. Goyette, 41 years old; Captain Sean E. Elliot, 30 years old; Shooting Sergeant Mark A. Hopkins, 34; Shooter Sergeant Brendan Jackson, 45; Staff Sgt. Joshua M. Snowden, 31 years old; Sgt. Julian M. Kevianne, 31 years old; Sgt. Owen J. Lennon, 26 years old; Cap. Daniel I. Baldassare, 20 years old; and cap. Collin J. Schaaff, 22 years old.

The disaster marked the second major loss of life in an aviation accident for MARSOC in 28 months. In March 2015, a Black Hawk helicopter crashed off the coast of the Florida Panhandle, killing seven special operators from the same unit and four members of the Louisiana Army National Guard. A group of former and former Marine Raiders launched long walks from accident sites to Camp Lejeune in 2016 and 2018 to mark the birthdays of the accidents.

The rupture of the aircraft over the Mississippi River required a major recovery effort in two debris fields separated by about one kilometer, the report said.

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