HH-60G
RAF Lakenheath, UK
7 Jan 2014

S/N #88-26109

UNITED STATES AIR FORCE
AIRCRAFT ACCIDENT INVESTIGATION
BOARD REPORT

HH-60G, TAIL NUMBER 88-26109
56TH RESCUE SQUADRON
48TH FIGHTER WING
ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH

LOCATION: CLEY NEXT THE SEA, NORFOLK,
UNITED KINGDOM

DATE OF ACCIDENT: 7 JANUARY 2014

BOARD PRESIDENT: BRIGADIER GENERAL JON A. NORMAN

CONDUCTED IN ACCORDANCE WITH AIR FORCE INSTRUCTION 51-503 Under 10 U.S.C. § 2254(d) the opinion of the accident investigator as to the cause of, or the factors contributing to, the accident set forth in the accident investigation report, if any, may not be considered as evidence in any civil or criminal proceeding arising from the accident, nor may such information be considered an admission of liability of the United States or by any person referred to in those conclusions or statements.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
AIRCRAFT ACCIDENT INVESTIGATION
HH-60G, TAIL NUMBER 88-26109
CLEY NEXT THE SEA, NORFOLK, UNITED KINGDOM
7 JANUARY 2014

On 7 January 2014, at approximately 1805 local time (L), the mishap aircraft (MA), an HH-60G, Tail Number 88-26109, assigned to the 56th Rescue Squadron, 48th Fighter Wing, Royal Air Force (RAF) Lakenheath, United Kingdom (UK), experienced multiple bird strikes during a training mission and impacted privately-owned, grass-covered marshland near Cley next the Sea, UK. The four crewmembers, Capt. Sean Ruane (P), Capt. Christopher Stover (CP), TSgt. Dale Mathews (FE) and SSgt. Afton Ponce (AG), were fatally injured in the mishap. There were no civilian injuries or fatalities. The MA was destroyed upon impact. The cost to the United States government is estimated at $40,302,061. Damage to private property consisted of minimal burning to grass at the crash site.

The purpose of the training mission was to conduct a nighttime rescue scenario of a downed F-16 pilot. The training mission included two aircraft, the flight lead aircraft and the MA, collectively known as the mishap formation MF. All members of the flight lead crew and mishap crew wore night vision goggles. The MF departed RAF Lakenheath at 1733L and proceeded to an initial point to verify the status of the simulated downed pilot and conduct threat analysis. Strong winds pushed the MF toward a populated area. To avoid causing a noise disturbance, the MF reestablished its initial point to the north near the coastline.

The MA departed the new initial point at 1804L, flying east at approximately 110 feet above ground level and 110 knots indicated air speed toward a landing zone near Salthouse, UK. The flight path took the MF over Cley Marshes in the Norfolk Wildlife Trust near Cley next the Sea. A flock of geese took flight from Cley Marshes, likely startled by the noise of the approaching helicopters, and struck the MA. At least three geese penetrated the windscreen, rendering the mishap pilot and mishap co-pilot unconscious, and at least one goose struck the mishap aerial gunner in the performance of special mission aviator duties, rendering the mishap areal gunner unconscious. In addition, at least one goose hit the nose of the MA, disabling the Trim and Flight Path Stabilization systems. With the mishap pilot and mishap co-pilot unconscious and the Trim and Flight Path Stabilization disabled, the MA’s cyclic stick, which controls pitch and roll of the aircraft, was free to move randomly. The MA banked left to a point where it had no vertical lift. Without vertical lift, and without pilot input to correct the left roll, the MA was not able to remain airborne or maintain controlled flight. The MA impacted the ground at 1805L—approximately three seconds after being struck by the geese.

The Accident Investigation Board President found by clear and convincing evidence that multiple bird strikes caused the mishap by rendering the mishap pilot and mishap co-pilot unconscious and disabling the Trim and Flight Path Stabilization systems.


IN MEMORIAM

On 7 January 2014, four Airmen from the 56th Rescue Squadron took flight on a training exercise in an HH-60G Pave Hawk. As the moon lit the English countryside, tragedy claimed their lives. These four Airmen were known to those they loved as brother, son, father, husband, sister, daughter, mother, wife, and friend.

The Air Force has many missions. Its fighters provide close air support to troops advancing on the ground. Its bombers drop destructive payloads on enemy assets. But the unique mission of the 56th Rescue Squadron is to search and rescue—to seek out and save the lost, the wounded, and the fallen, day or night, in inclement weather, and in the face of hostile forces. These four Airmen took flight on 7 January 2014 to be ready, at a moment’s notice and under any circumstance, to find and recover those in need of refuge.

Our Airman’s Creed calls on those in uniform to “never leave and Airman behind.” Each day, these four Airmen practiced and applied the craft of rescue. Together they are credited with saving hundreds of lives. Those they loved should stand tall knowing that these four embodied all that it means to be an Airman.

Although their lives ended in an unexpected instant, their sacrifice did not spark in that moment—it crescendoed over lifetimes of dedication to serving their country and those they loved. Their legacies will be found in the countless hours supporting the mission of the Air Force, in the late nights helping a son or daughter with homework, and in the laughter shared with friends.

Their dedication shall forever be in our memories through the Rescue Motto, “These things we do… that others may live.”

Integrity, Honor, and Respect
Some of the best things cannot be bought, they must be earned

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