Helicopter Accidents

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Kadena AB, Japan
5 Aug 2013

S/N #91-26354


On 5 August 2013 at approximately 1610 hours local time (L), the mishap aircraft (MA), an HH-60G, tail number 91-26354, assigned to the 33rd Rescue Squadron, 18th Wing, Kadena Air Base (AB), Japan, while flying in formation on a pre-deployment spin-up training mission, impacted terrain approximately 14 nautical miles northeast of Kadena AB in the Central Training Area (CTA). Mishap Pilot (MP), Mishap Copilot (MCP) and Mishap Aerial Gunner (MAG) exited the MA shortly after impact sustaining minor to major injuries. Mishap Flight Engineer (MFE) was fatally injured. MA was significantly damaged upon impact and subsequently destroyed by ensuing fire  with a loss valued at $38,047,154.40. MA impacted on military property, damaging several trees prior to striking the ground. There was no damage to civilian property.  There was media interest as reported by local, national and international outlets.

MA was in a formation flight to the CTA as the wingman of the Mishap Flight Lead Aircraft (MFLA). Once in the area, MFLA, followed by MA, infiltrated  their  pararescuemen  into  a landing zone near a simulated downed helicopter with a survivor. Following  the  infiltration, MFLA and MA, now with MA in the formation lead position and MFLA as the trailing aircraft/wingman, proceeded to fly in a northwest-southeast oriented figure eight-like racetrack pattern at 150 feet above ground level. On the last turn prior to the mishap, MA, with MCP on the flight controls, turned to the right (east), and in a direction opposite previous turns in order to correct their pattern, which had drifted to the west. MFLA was at MA’s five o’clock position at the beginning of the turn, in an effort to maintain desired gun pattern ground track. There was no indication of discussion or that anyone on the Mishap Crew was aware as to the location of MFLA in relation to MA other than in being in trail. After approximately 90 degrees of turn, MP was surprised to see MFLA off his right side and perceived an immediate conflict with potential for mid-air collision. However, MFLA crew did not have the same perception. Based upon this perception, MP immediately took control of MA, and proceeded to increase bank and initiated a descent to avoid MFLA.

The Accident Investigation Board (AIB) President found by clear and convincing evidence that the cause of the mishap was MP, based upon his perception of a potential for a mid-air collision with the formation wingman, maneuvered MA at low altitude in a manner that resulted  in excessive altitude loss and MP’s inability to stop the helicopter’s descent prior to ground impact. Furthermore, the AIB President found by a preponderance of evidence that each of the following factors substantially contributed to the mishap: (1) MCP turned in a direction opposite previous racetrack turns and into the flight path of the trailing aircraft; and (2) MP was not aware of trailing aircraft’s specific position prior to turning, which resulted in MP’ s surprise upon seeing the trailing aircraft and MP’s belief that immediate maneuvering was required to avoid collision.

HH-60G Crashes on Okinawa, One Crewmember Missing:

An HH-60 #91-26354 Pave Hawk rescue helicopter assigned to the 18th Wing at Kadena AB, Japan, crashed during a training mission on Monday in Okinawa’s Central Training Area near Camp Hansen, announced wing officials. The crash occurred around 4 p.m. local time. US fire and rescue crews responded to the mishap scene. They recovered three of the helicopter’s crew. Those three airmen were in stable condition and received medical care for their injuries at the US Naval hospital on the island, according to a wing release.

The remaining crew member (later identified as TSgt. Mark A. Smith) was still missing as of early Tuesday Kadena time. However, wing officials said rescuers on the scene had recovered yet-to-be-identified human remains at the crash site. Kadena officials said they’d release more details as they become available. 18th Wing leadership suspended flying activities at the base on Tuesday for a day, except for operationally required missions. Officials said they did not know when the base’s HH-60s would resume flying. (See also initial Kadena release and second Kadena release.)

HH-60 Crashes on Okinawa, One Crewmember Missing

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