Coast Guard crash was 'preventable'


POSTED: Saturday, December 12, 2009

A 15-month investigation into a September 2008 helicopter crash that took the lives of four Coast Guard crew members during a training exercise determined the accident was “;preventable,”; but also concluded that the crew of both the helicopter and a rescue boat did not violate any procedures.

The crash was blamed on a slack cable that snagged on a pipe of a rescue boat.

In his 10-page memo, Adm. Thad Allen, Coast Guard commandant, said the Sept. 4 accident that occurred five miles south of Honolulu Airport “;is a reminder that as guardians we operate in an extremely hazardous environment. Coast Guard men and women go into harm's way to train and conduct operations each day, and we must diligently direct our energies to perform operations safely and effectively.”;

;[Preview]  Findings released in Coast Guard crash

The Coast Guard released new findings in the investigation of a rescue helicopter that crashed and killed four crew members last year.

Watch ]


Killed in the training exercise involving Coast Guard twin-engine HH-65 Dolphin rescue helicopter 6505 were pilots Capt. Thomas Nelson and Lt. Cmdr. Andrew Wischmeier, rescue swimmer Petty Officer 1st Class David Skimin and flight mechanic Petty Officer 1st Class Joshua Nichols. The bodies of only Wischmeier, Skimin and Nichols were recovered.

Susan Buck-Wischmeier, Wischmeier's widow, said the safety and administrative reports help to bring closure to the tragedy, pointing out that “;the gals and the guys (of the Coast Guard) constantly put their lives on the line.”;

The Kaneohe resident told reporters that she believes her husband and his crew “;fought as hard as they could. What normally could be usual actions and circumstances on any given night when they do these training missions combined on that night to something that was tragic.

“;They fought. They wanted to get home. They saw land. I know my husband thought that 'if anyone could get this helicopter home, I can.' I know that's what they tried to do.”;

There will be “;substantial changes”; resulting from the accident, Coast Guard officials said yesterday, including placing a shroud over the stern of the rescue boat and examination of the hoist and the cable used in rescue operations.

The Coast Guard investigative report said that helicopter 6505, one of four Dolphin models assigned to Barbers Point Air Station, was conducting rescue basket hoist training with a 47-foot Coast Guard rescue boat at 8:11 p.m. that day, five miles south of Honolulu Airport. Rescue basket hoist training involves a helicopter lowering a rescue basket to the deck of a boat and then hoisting the basket back to the right side of the helicopter.

The seas were about 6 feet when the chopper began its fifth attempt to recover the basket from the boat.

Rear Adm. Manson Brown, 14th Coast Guard District commandant, told reporters that during the fifth attempt the hoist cable running from the right side of the helicopter went slack as the aircraft hovered.

The extra slack in the quarter-inch stainless-steel cable formed a loop that snagged on a 3-to-4-inch pipe that extends three to five inches above the stern of the rescue boat just as the boat fell in the trough of a wave.

Brown said that put pressure on the helicopter, pulling it to the right.

The pilot tried to level the helicopter by moving it to the left, Brown said. “;At that point the cable snapped under tension.”;

The reports do not say who was piloting the 44-foot helicopter, but it is believed that control was switching between Nelson and Wischmeier during the time of the accident.

Brown said the snapping of the cable resulted in “;severe turbulence”; that damaged the helicopter's rotor system, and he speculated that one of the chopper's 39-foot rotor blades came into contact with the hoist boom assembly.

Brown said the helicopter tried to fly toward the South Shore of Oahu, climbing to 500 feet while experiencing “;severe vibrations”; and issuing “;mayday”; calls. Three minutes and 15 seconds after the mishap, it crashed into the ocean. It was the first time such a fatal training accident has occurred, Brown said.

Brown said he and other Coast Guard officials believe “;all accidents are preventable,”; noting that there should have been ways to prevent the cable from snagging on the rescue boat's pipe and that the helicopter could have ditched before it crashed.

The chopper has yet to be replaced.