Cause of helicopter collision that killed 12 Marines off Hawaii revealed

(Photo Courtesy: KFMB)

HONOLULU, Hi. (CBS News) – The cause of a collision between two helicopters off Hawaii that killed 12 Marines in January was revealed to be a combination of pilot error, poor training, and command problems, according to a new report.

CBS Honolulu affiliate KFMB-TV reports the findings were first revealed by the University of California-Berkeley Investigative Reporting program, and show that the pilots in the night training exercise failed to maintain adequate distance when they went down off Oahu’s North Shore.

The incident happened around 11 p.m. on January 14 when two CH-53E helicopters carrying six crew members each failed to return to their base at Kaneohe Bay following a nighttime training mission. Hours later, a Coast Guard helicopter and C-130 airplane spotted debris 2 1/2 miles off of Oahu.

“This loss of life was tragic and is felt deeply in the Marine Corps community,” Marine Corps Pacific spokesman Lt. Col. Curtis L. Hill said, in a statement. “Our thoughts go out to the families of all those affected by this incident.”

The Honolulu Civil Beat publication obtained the official report on the crash, and they say it states that the trailing helicopter in the training exercise slammed into the lead vehicle, causing both to go down. There were no apparent mechanical problems with the helicopters.

Civil Beat writes the official reports states that the “impact of the two Super Stallions resulted in a violent explosion with forces ‘estimated at hundreds of times the force of gravity’ and ‘instantaneously’ killed all aboard.”

The official report said the pilots’ Kaneohe Marine Corps Base Hawaii squadron neglected to focus on basic aviation practices, leaving personnel ill prepared for the rigors of flying in formation and in the dark. The pilots had apparently not met minimum flying hour goals prior to the exercise.

Additionally, officials believe the flight should have been cancelled because the unit commander had been fired days before the incident.

The Marines who died in the accident were from various states and ranged in age from 21 to 41.

The transport helicopters that crashed were part of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing at Marine Corps Base Hawaii. Known as Super Stallions, they are the U.S. military’s largest helicopter, capable of carrying a light armored vehicle, 16 tons of cargo or a team of combat-equipped Marines, according to a Marine Corps website.


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