Sunday, January 01, 2017

Sikorsky UH-60A Black Hawk, United States Army, 291st Aviation Regiment, 87-24651: Fatal accident occurred November 23, 2015 in Fort Hood, Killeen, Texas

Black Hawk crash reports differ, raise more questions

Sgt. 1st Class Toby Childers

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Stephen B. Cooley

Sgt. 1st Class Jason M. Smith

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Michael F. Tharp

The cause of the 2015 Black Hawk crash was redacted in a long-awaited Army report released last week. Deep within the report’s 345 pages, however, was this statement: The craft “was not airworthy at the time of the incident.”

That was followed by this statement:

“The (Integrated Vehicle Health Management System) ground station indicated the tail rotor had been out of balance (greater than 0.7 inches per second) from 10 November until the accident.”

Four soldiers from Fort Hood’s First Army Division West were aboard the helicopter when it went down sometime after 5:49 p.m. Nov. 23, 2015, in the northeast portion of the Fort Hood training area. The soldiers aboard were Sgt. 1st Class Toby Childers, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Stephen B. Cooley, Sgt. 1st Class Jason M. Smith and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Michael F. Tharp.

Investigators for the unit determined the crash was caused by pilot error. Their report, released in September, said the pilot in charge at the time executed a “break turn” maneuver that exceeded the aircraft’s maximum angle of bank, causing the aircraft to stall.

The September report said in its assessment that there was “no mechanical failure and (mechanical failure) was not a contributing factor with regard to the incident. The evidence indicates that all mechanical safety precautions were followed prior to the flight.”

The report released in September was conducted by First Army as an internal investigation. The report released in December came from the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center, Fort Rucker, Ala., the organization responsible for investigating accidents Army-wide. Both investigations began immediately following the crash.

Maj. Joseph Odorizzi, First Army spokesman, said the unit would decline to make a statement about the release of the December report until they had an opportunity to thoroughly review the document.


One of the consistencies between the two reports is that weather had nothing to do with the crash. The sky was clear with unrestricted visibility for 10 miles.

Another is that the break turn maneuver conducted right before the helicopter went down was attempted at 120 knots, or about 138 mph, with a 60-degree bank at 300 feet above ground.

A break turn is a combat maneuver pilots are required to learn for certification before going into combat.

Both reports state that after the break turn maneuver, the helicopter descended rapidly and hit a tree before the aircraft broke into two pieces and hit the ground.

A supplemental investigation contained in the December report by the Corpus Christi Army Depot Analytical Investigation Branch concurred with the September report that a visual inspection of the Black Hawk “revealed no pre-existing defects or anomalies that would have contributed to this accident.” The supplemental investigation goes on to say the analysis is supported by data retrieved from the flight data recorder and the integrated vehicle health management system.

Both the September and December reports agree that the soldiers were killed instantly and could not have been saved, no matter how quickly medical assistance were to arrive.


The investigation by the Corpus Christi Army Depot, which is an investigative subdivision of the Combat Readiness Center at Fort Rucker, contradicts the review of the helicopter’s airworthiness included in the December report. The data used to determine that the tail rotor on the UH-60 Black Hawk was out of balance came from the same flight data recorder and integrated vehicle health management system used to determine that the helicopter was in sound mechanical condition in both the September unit report and the Corpus Christi Army Depot report.

Additional information might clear up apparent inconsistencies within the Corpus Christi Army Depot report, but the findings were redacted from the December report.

Under the facts, findings and recommendations of the September report, however, the document states the “aircraft maintenance records were all in compliance” and had no overdue inspections. The unit report further states that there were no mechanical failures on the aircraft and the “evidence indicates that all mechanical safety precautions were followed prior to flight.”


Michael Negard, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center, said the two investigations are distinct and were conducted separately and apart from one another.

“As you know, the accident unit in this case conducted a legal accident investigation under the provisions of Army Regulation 15-6,” he said, referring to the unit’s report released in September. “The purpose of this AR 15-6 investigation, like all 15-6s, is to collect information for the command so that the command can make an informed decision based on facts and evidence, which is legally sufficient.”

According to the regulation, the evidence gathered during a 15-6 investigation may be used in any administrative action against an individual “regardless of the particular procedures used, and regardless of whether that individual was a subject or designated as a respondent.”

Negard said investigations by the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center rely on a Department of Defense policy as the regulatory document that defines safety confidentiality and provides guidance for mishap notification, investigation, reporting and record-keeping. That policy — specifically DOD Instruction 6055.07 — is the reason why the December report contains redactions that include findings, recommendations and the cause of the crash.

“Safety investigations serve to preserve vital national defense manpower and hardware. They are conducted for accident prevention purposes only and contain privileged safety information, which is not releasable to the public,” Negard said. “The safety privilege does not apply to a legal (15-6) accident investigation, and they generally contain more releasable information than the safety accident investigation.”


One of the soldier’s widows said she hasn’t heard anything from the Army since receiving copies of the September unit 15-6 investigation.

“I read about the (December) report in the (Herald),” said Trisha Smith, widow of Sgt. 1st Class Jason Smith. “I don’t really have any contact with the Army anymore — we left Fort Hood rather quickly after the accident because we just didn’t feel welcome there.”

Smith said her husband was new to the unit, so there might not have been the same level of care toward her and her three sons as there was for the other families affected by the crash.

Part of her frustration, she said, was in how information was passed to her family. After the crash, she was told by officials from her husband’s unit that they thought he was on the flight, but they weren’t positive and someone would confirm with her later whether he had been killed.

“It was an unofficial ‘official’ notification that something had happened,” Smith said.

As later she sought information about other aspects, “All the questions I had were always answered with (the crash) was ‘under investigation,’” said Smith, who moved to Prairieville, La., after the crash.

The incident made her feel she had been written off, she said.

“It wasn’t pleasant. I wouldn’t want any other family to go through what I did,” Smith said. “When (a unit representative) would tell me anything, it wouldn’t match the report.”

The copy of the unit 15-6 investigation Smith received contained information not released to the Daily Herald under the Freedom of Information Act request, such as sworn statements that brought into question whether the pilots had enough recent flight time to conduct the flight and a written transcript of the cockpit voice recorder.

The information raises more questions. The transcript from the cockpit voice recorder shows a flight path stabilizer alarm went off seconds before the crash. Among the unresolved issues: What made that happen, and did it distract the crew during the final turn?


NOV. 23, 2015

Second Battalion, 291st Aviation Regiment, 120th Infantry Brigade and First Army Division West were scheduled to fly in both daylight and nighttime conditions in Training Area 22.

5 p.m. — Mission briefing officer determined mission to be low risk. Mission is approved.

5:20 p.m. — Someone else takes over as night supervisor for flight operations section.

5:21 p.m. — Aircraft voice recorder records pilot initiating training.

About 5:26 p.m. — The Back Hawk crashes.

5:30 p.m. — The sun sets.

5:49 p.m. — The Black Hawk’s crew fails to check in with Hood Radio and becomes overdue. Hood Radio attempts to reach the Black Hawk several times.

6 p.m. — Hood Radio notifies Robert Gray Army Airfield base operations, Gray Ops, that an aircraft is overdue.

6:20 to 6:30 p.m. — Robert Gray Army Airfield base operations tries to contact flight operations three times without an answer.

6:30 p.m. — Gray Ops attempts to contact the pilot in charge by cellphone. There is no response.

6:37 p.m. — Gray Ops contacts flight operations.

7:10 p.m. — Hood Radio requests that an aircraft in the vicinity fly over the area the Black Hawk is expected to be in and attempt to locate it. The results are negative.

7:28 p.m. — It’s confirmed the missing Black Hawk is not on the ramp at Hood Army Airfield. The last known position is determined.

7:28 to 7:40 p.m. — Gray Ops contacts someone at Hood Army Airfield to inform of the situation and request assistance. Gray Ops receives recommendation that Fort Hood Installation Operations Center should be involved.

7:40 p.m. — Gray Ops first contacts the Installation Operations Center and requests the approval of search and rescue. The operations center answers with “this is not in their lane,” so Gray Ops contacts Temple Airport, Shell FARP and Range Control in an attempt to get more information.

8:07 p.m. — The IOC is informed of its responsibilities, and search and rescue efforts are approved.

8:07 to 8:27 p.m. — Several phone calls are made in which the Installation Operations Center denies responsibility for search and rescue.

About 8:30 p.m. — Search and rescue efforts are launched in the crash area.

About 9:45 p.m. — Search and rescue teams report locating the crashed Black Hawk and initiates crashed aircraft procedures.

Compiled by Josh Sullivan

Source: Army reports

Original article can be found here:

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