A recent fatal Marine helicopter crash in North Carolina, this week brought brings the total number of Marine aviation-related Marine deaths to 18 so far this year — already a five-year high just nine months into 2015.
A The Sept. 2 crash of a CH-53E Super Stallion made a hard landing at Stone Bay near Camp Lejeune on Wednesday. Staff Sgt. Jonathan Lewis, one of about 20 Marines conducting a fast-roping exercise, was killed. Eleven other Marines were injured. Lewis was based out of Norfolk, Virginia, and was training to deploy with a Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team.
The Sept. 2 accident incident, which remains under investigation, was Apart from the tragic loss of life, the accident is just one of five this year and one of at least 13 since May 2014 of last year that have resulted in death, injury or significant property damage. Five aircraft mishaps have left at least 18 Marines dead in 2015 — up 15 compared to the 2014 total. The last spike in aviation-related deaths occurred in 2012, when 15 Marines were killed in aircraft mishaps.
Marine officials say they're committed to aircraft safety, but "by its very nature, there will always be inherent risk in military aviation," said Maj. Paul Greenberg a Marine aviation spokesman at the Pentagon.
"By its very nature, there will always be inherent risk in military aviation," said Maj. Paul Greenberg a Marine aviation spokesman at the Pentagon. "That being said, the Marine Corps utilizes highly reliable aircraft, extensively trains pilots and aircrew, conducts exhaustive maintenance, and at every step puts in place safeguards and precautions to ensure a high degree of aviation safety," he added.
The Marine Corps suffered its biggest loss of life this year in a single aviation accident when 11 troops, including seven members of Marine Corps Special Forces Operations Command, were killed when their UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter crashed off the coast of Florida during a training exercise. That and other fatal mishaps over the past year and a half have some observers It's a rash of accidents that has some Marine Corps Times readers concerned about the safety of military aircraft.
"I feel like this year has had a ridiculous amount of accidents," wrote Sgt. Mitchell Flowers, based out of Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, wrote on Marine Corps Times' Facebook page Thursday.
Rachael Harrison, who identifies herself as a Marine mother on Facebook, called the current military aviation safety record unacceptable.
"Seems like every other month there is a helicopter related death in the Corps," she wrote. "Safety issues and training of the pilots [must] be implemented."
A troubling trend
The number of Marines killed in of aviation mishaps this year is nearly double that of those killed in motorcycle accidents, a cause of death the Corps has worked diligently to reduce through mandatory new-rider and refresher courses. fatalities in the Marine Corps in 2015 have outpacesthe 10 motorcycle deaths this year, a cause of death the Corps has worked diligently to reduce.
It should be noted that the deadliest crash this year for Marines, killing seven members of Marine Corps Special Operations Command were killed training in Florida this March, occurred in an Army-piloted UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter. But, that does little to staunch what some perceive to be a rash of deadly accidents. Another reader highlights that the Marine Corps has lost more Marines in training at home than in combat this year.[[Is this accurate? I mean, combat ops are over for everyone, so that seems sort of unfair. Also, there were six Marines killed in Nepal, so that wasn't at home and there was that one Marine killed from falling out of the Osprey that's tied to Inherent Resolve.]] [[I suppose you are right. Even with the 1 in Inherent Resolve and the 6 abroad, more are still stateside trainning, but I did have the same thought about combat ops being over. I get what he was trying to say, but it probably misses the mark./jks]]]
The majority of aviation accidents involving Marines over the past 16 months have been tied to training exercises. Others occurred while Marines were deployed on humanitarian or crisis response missions. Here's a look at some of those mishaps, many of which remain under investigation. Accidents since last summer include:
- May 9, 2014: An AV-8B Harrier crashes outside Phoenix, Arizona. The pilot ejects, but the aircraft is destroyed.
- June 1, 2014: A CH-53E is damaged during a hard landing at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan.
- June 4, 2014: An AV-8B Harrier suffers a catastrophic oil leak. The pilot ejects near San Diego, but the aircraft catches fire and [[correct? GH yes. It caught fire when it struck the ground./jks]] destroys three homes.
- June 27, 2014: An AV-8B Harrier's landing gear fails, forcing a Marine pilot to land aboard the amphibious assault ship Bataan using an emergency procedure.
- Oct. 1, 2014: An MV-22 Osprey assigned to the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit plummets into the Persian Gulf before regaining control and landing on the amphibious assault ship Makin Island. One Marine is lost at sea.
- Oct. 13, 2014: An electronic warfare pod detaches from an EA-6B Prowler during a Weapons and Tactics Instructor Course at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona, resulting in more than $2 million in damage.
- Oct. 14, 2014: An AH-1W Super Cobra catches fire on the ground during ground checks following maintenance, resulting in at least $1.1 million in damage.
- Jan. 24, 2015: A UH-1Y Venom at Twentynine Palms, California, crashes near Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California, killing both pilots.
- Feb. 22, 2015: Two pilots eject from an F/A-18 Hornet near Statenville, Georgia, moments before the aircraft crashes.[[What destroyed the aircraft? The sentence just makes it sound like the pilots destroyed the aircraft, so it needs some additional details. GH It was destroyed on impact. Reworded to make it clear./jks]]
- March 10, 2015: An Army UH-60 Blackhawk crashes into the ocean off the Florida panhandle killing seven MARSOC operators.
- May 12, 2015: A UH-1Y Venom crashes in Nepal as Marines Huey conducting humanitarian operations. Six Marines are killed. in Nepal, crashes in rugged mountains killing six Marines.
- May 17, 2015: An MV-22 Osprey in Hawaii makes a hard landing and catches fire in Hawaii, killing two Marines and injuring 20 more.[[How many? GH]]
- Sept. 2, 2015: A CH-53E Super Stallion near Camp Lejeune makes a hard landing near Camp Lejeune. One Marine is killed, resulting in one killed and 11 injured.
Photos of six Marines killed in a helicopter crash while on a rescue mission for earthquake victims in Nepal are displayed with flight vests, helmets, rifles and boots during a June 3 memorial service at Camp Pendleton, Calif. The six were, from left, Capt. Dustin R. Lukasiewicz, Capt. Christopher L. Norgren, Sgt. Ward M. Johnson IV, Sgt. Eric M. Seaman, Cpl. Sara A. Medina, and Lance Cpl. Jacob A. Hug.
Photo Credit: Sam Gangwer/Orange County Register via AP
Investigations into some of the accidents indicate they were caused by
[[Were you leaving these question marks here to add something? GH I took them out. I honestly have no idea why those were in there./jks]]Contributing to the accidents are
factors that include
maintenance mistakes and mechanical failures.
No obvious pattern emerges, suggesting it could just be an unfortunate spate. While more Marines have been killed in aviation accidents over the past several years, the
The as the
overall Class A mishap rate has held
actually holds relatively
steady in recent years.
even if recent mishaps have been deadlier.
e Class A mishap
rate is calculated as a ratio of accidents causing more than $2 million in damage or loss of life per 100,000 hours flown.
Class A mishaps have fluctuated between
about two and three accidents per 100,000 flight hours over the past
several years, according to Marine Corps data.
"By its very nature, there will always be inherent risk in military aviation," said Maj. Paul Greenberg a Marine aviation spokesman at the Pentagon. "That being said, the Marine Corps utilizes highly reliable aircraft, extensively trains pilots and aircrew, conducts exhaustive maintenance, and at every step puts in place safeguards and precautions to ensure a high degree of aviation safety."
Aging aircraft, shrinking budgets
As post-war defense budgets have taken a hit, Marine officials have expressed concern to lawmakers that less money means fewer training hours for Marine pilots.
Some legacy aircraft have also been kept in the fleet longer than originally planned as cuts have slowed the procurement of new planes or helicopters. For example, F/A-18C/D Hornets were slated to be phased out as they hit their engineered service life of 6,000 flight hours. Now they'll be kept in service for up 10,000 flight hours, as the service awaits the delivery of more F-35B joint strike fighters.
[[James -- something was recently stretched that we can cite as an example that Josh wrote -- Hornets maybe that are going to stay in the fleet longer? GH]]
Retired Marine Col. William Lawrence, who spent decades testing the Corps' new fixed and rotary wing aircraft,
who among other career highlights served as an early program manager for the MV-22 and
now runs an aviation consulting business that analyzes civilian crashes. Budget pressures can
But, budget pressures could
stress airframes to the breaking point as they are pressed to fly beyond their expected service life, he said. They can also erode training and maintenance.
said one retired pilot with decades of experience as a fixed wing and rotary wing test pilot.
"One of the greatest requirements to being comfortable in the cockpit is getting enough flight time,"
said retired Col. William
, who among other career highlights served as an early program manager for the MV-22 and now runs an aviation consulting business that includes analyzing civilian crashes.
"In civil and general aviation, a lot of accidents occur because pilots don't have enough time in cockpit."
Too few flight hours can affect
maintainers, too, he said.
"The less flight hours for an aircraft, the less maintenance there is and the less familiar maintenance people are with the tasks they are expected to perform," Lawrence said.
A man and woman look toward smoke rising from a Marine Corps Osprey aircraft on May 17 after making a hard landing on Bellows Air Force Station near Waimanalo, Hawaii. The fatal crash of the Marine Corps' new hybridized airplane-and-helicopter aircraft during a training exercise is renewing safety concerns about the machine.
Photo Credit: Zane Dulin via AP
A lack of flight time may not be a contributing factor in all accidents, but
Marine aviation leaders have repeatedly voiced concern over the effects that inadequate budgets could have on training, maintenance and safety, particularly if they face additional spending cuts
recurring threat of sequestration eventually causes deep cuts
which suffered fatal
mishaps in October and again in May,
— including one in Hawaii in May and another in the Arabian Gulf in October, 2014 —
has had its own readiness problems. The Marine Corps made strides to improve standards for the MV-22B Osprey two years after a Defense Department Inspector General report found unsettling evidence the service was deploying squadrons that were not mission-ready. More specifically, it found that the maintenance and ready status of MV-22s at six squadrons was incorrectly or incompletely reported the majority of the time.
The investigators found that crews with the squadrons surveyed were marking the tiltrotor aircraft as ready to deploy even if they weren't, due to inadequate training of maintenance personnel and lack of oversight from commanders. As a result, senior Defense Department or Marine Corps officials "could have deployed MV-22 squadrons that were not prepared for missions," the report concluded.
The report found at least one instance in which an aircraft in California was repeatedly flown despite being restricted from flight operations.
Despite reporting problems and the high number of deaths, Marine leaders insist their aircraft are generally sound.
In May, following the loss of eight Marines in two different accidents involving a UH-1Y Venom in Nepal
and six Marines aboard who were conducting relief operations in Nepal
that killed two more
, Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, the head of Marine aviation,
assured reporters that the service's
aircraft fleet was
safe and mission ready.
"We are not stopping [UH-1 Yankee] flights. We are not stopping MV-22 flights," Davis said in May, adding that mishaps were isolated incidents and that
, during a May 19 morning meeting with reporters in Washington
He added that
investigators, "found nothing that would give me pause on the safety of these aircraft."
and further characterized both mishaps as isolated incidents not indicative of wider problems with either platform.
Still, deployment-to-dwell ratio for Marine aviators and aircraft, and budgets, remain a concern. Weeks after the incidents in Nepal and Hawaii, Davis along with
and the Just two weeks later, he appeared on the Hill at a Navy League panel discussion alongside Rear Adm. Michael Manazir,
the Navy's director of air warfare and other senior aviation leaders,
. Together they
pleaded with members of Congress to protect their budgets.
The combination of foreign aggression and a high operational tempo that includes disaster relief missions in places like Nepal have strained aviation resources to the breaking point as aviators work on a 1:2 deployment to dwell ratio, meaning they spend six of every 18 months deployed.
Davis said then that he ensures that every deploying aviation squadron
unit that deploys
has the aircraft and personnel it needs, but that comes at the cost of training,
and hurts other
aircraft maintenance and modernization projects.
Staff writer Hope Hodge Seck contributed to this report.
Editor's note: This story has been revised. Marine Corps officials mistakenly reported that the Oct. 14, 2014, accident involving an AH-1W Super Cobra resulted in more than $2 million in damage to the aircraft.