COURTESY OF ROBERT SPOHNER
A Blackwater Casa 212 aircraft, similar to the one involved in November's military crash in Afghanistan that killed three Schofield soldiers and three others, is shown at a Florida public airport.
Army says contractor to blame for crash
Three who died were from Schofield
The Army says a private contractor violated numerous regulations that resulted in the November plane crash in Afghanistan that killed six people, including three Schofield Barracks soldiers.
Yesterday, the attorney for the soldiers' families, Robert Spohner, said Presidential Airways "cut corners" in the no-bid contract to provide short field air transportation and that its "negligent operations" were to blame for "this needless loss of life."
Spohner said, "The Army's full (investigation) report confirms what our investigation made clear: wrong crew, essential equipment missing, flight planning and execution procedures in violation of government regulations and contractual obligations."
Spohner amended the families' lawsuit yesterday in Florida based on the release of new sections of the Army's collateral investigation report and is seeking punitive damages.
In June the families of Lt. Col. Michael McMahon, 41, formerly of West Hartford, Conn.; Chief Warrant Officer Travis W. Grogan, 31, of Moore, Okla.; and Spc. Harley D. Miller, 21, of Spokane, Wash., filed the wrongful-death suit in U.S. District Court in Florida against the private contractor, which operated the aircraft.
The three soldiers -- all members of the 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division -- were killed Nov. 27 when the Casa 212 aircraft they were in crashed in Afghanistan's Hindu Kush mountains at about 14,650 feet. The small Spanish-made turboprop aircraft was more than a half-hour into its flight and crashed as it tried to cross a mountain ridge.
Named as defendants were Aviation Worldwide Services, Presidential Airways Inc., STI Aviation Inc. and Air Quest Inc., which are Florida-based subsidiaries of the Prince Group. Prince operates as Blackwater USA.
Three civilian employees of Blackwater -- pilot Noel English, co-pilot Loren Hammer and mechanic Melvin Rowe -- also died in the crash.
In a written statement, Presidential Airways said the National Transportation Safety Board has not completed its investigation and that the Army report contains "numerous errors, misstatements and unfounded assumptions."
The investigative board was convened Dec. 1 by then-Maj. Gen. Eric Olson, 25th Division and Combined Joint Task Force 76 commander in Afghanistan.
The board concluded that maintenance and weather were not factors in the crash that occurred 10 miles southwest of Bagram Airfield.
Investigators, however, said the experience of the two Blackwater 63 pilots in the Afghan theater were limited with only 33 hours for each of them. Planning for the flight was incomplete, which, coupled with poor navigation and decision-making, led to the plane crash, they said.
"Approximately 40 minutes into the flight," the report said, "the mishap pilot recognized the mishap aircraft would be unable to climb above the terrain and initiated a turn in an attempt to reverse flight direction.
"At that point in the canyon, the mishap aircraft did not have sufficient performance ability to successfully complete the maneuver and crashed."
The reported also cited other violations that occurred during the November flight, including that the crew:
» Stopped the Casa 212 while taxing on the runway to load a third passenger.
» Did not use the oxygen system as required.
In October 2004, Blackwater announced it had received nearly $35 million from the Pentagon to shuttle service members and U.S. contractors in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Pakistan for an indefinite period.