Crew error caused Iraq crash
26 Kaneohe Marines and a Pearl sailor died in the January incident
SAN DIEGO » A helicopter crash in western Iraq in January that killed 30 Marines and a sailor -- the deadliest crash in more than two years of combat in Iraq -- resulted from human error, not mechanical failure or hostile fire, according to an investigative report by the Marine Corps.
The death toll of the crash included 26 Kaneohe Marines and a Pearl Harbor sailor.
The crew of the CH-53E Super Stallion became disoriented when weather turned bad and visibility was reduced, and it flew the helicopter into the ground. The crew apparently did not realize that the craft had begun banking to the left rather than flying straight, the report says.
The helicopter was taking troops to western Iraq to guard polling places during the Iraqi assembly election when it went down in the desert on the night of Jan. 26. A second helicopter made the trip safely.
Key sections of the 400-page report released yesterday have been edited for what authorities say are national security reasons. Among the items not disclosed were two recommendations by the investigating officer that were not endorsed by the commanding general of the 3rd Marine Corps Air Wing.
The pilot of the second craft, Capt. Norman T. Day, whose responsibilities included providing updated weather information to both crews, failed to provide data to the doomed helicopter, the report says. He has been taken off flying status.
In an interview with Day, a Marine investigator told him that he might face dereliction-of-duty charges, according to a transcript. But the report does not say whether charges are being brought.
"I don't think there is anything I could have done differently," Day told the investigator, "other than turning around at the first sign of a little bit of weather, but I don't think that is an option."
Day said that turning around and returning to base was not possible because both helicopters were low on fuel and were close to their destination, the city of Rutbah, 240 miles west of Baghdad. To save time, the helicopters had not refueled at a midway stop.
The flight crew and the helicopter were from Miramar Marine Corps Air Station in San Diego, the headquarters of the air wing. The troops were based in Kaneohe.