Wednesday, October 17, 2001

Pilot blamed in
Vietnam copter crash

By Gregg K. Kakesako

The Vietnamese pilot of a helicopter that crashed into a mountain in Vietnam in April was blamed for the accident that killed seven Americans who were on a mission to recover the remains of missing servicemen.

Investigators for the Vietnamese government and the Pacific Command at Camp Smith said "the cause of the accident cannot be determined with absolute certainty, as there were no survivors or eyewitnesses."

However, investigators said they believe the pilot failed "to properly react as the aircraft descended from a scattered cloud level into an unforecasted, rapidly forming thick layer of fog."

The military report said: "There were no indications of any other contributing factors, such as helicopter maintenance, operating procedures, flight service or communications."

U.S. MIA recovery teams must use Vietnamese aircraft and boats because the government there will not allow U.S.-made Black Hawk helicopters to be brought into the country.

Also killed in the April 7 crash on Am Mountain in the Quang Binh province were nine Vietnamese. Of the seven Americans killed, six belonged to Joint Task Force-Full Accounting, whose mission is to account for servicemen missing from the Vietnam War. The other American was a mortuary affairs specialist from the U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory at Hickam Air Force Base.

The accident report said the Russian-made MI-17 helicopter was completing the last of two missions for a team of MIA recovery specialists, which was doing advance work for a mission which was supposed to begin May 3 and continue through June 1.

Investigators said they believe that the pilot, Lt. Col. Nguyen Van Ha, saw he was flying too low and could not see the ground and then tried to climb above a thick layer of fog. By then it was too late and the helicopter hit Am Mountain 66 feet from the summit. The rear portion of the helicopter's fuselage hit the mountain, damaging the tail rotor. The aircraft broke into two to three pieces and exploded.

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