Commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic (CNAL) released the results today of the Judge Advocate General Manual (JAGMAN) investigation in to the crash of an MH-53E Sea Dragon off the coast of Virginia January 8, that resulted in the death of three Sailors.
The MH-53E, assigned to Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron Fourteen (HM-14) and based at Naval Station Norfolk Chambers Field, was conducting a routine training exercise when the accident happened.
“Lt. Sean Snyder, Lt. Wes Van Dorn, and Petty Officer Brian Collins were outstanding Sailors, sons, brothers, and fathers,” said Capt. Todd Flannery, Commander, Helicopter Sea Combat Wing Atlantic (HSCWL). “We continue to keep their families in our hearts, thoughts, and prayers.”
The Navy has spent the past several months conducting a detailed investigation into the crash to learn what went wrong and how to minimize the chance of such an event from happening in the future.
“The investigation has found that these deaths were incurred in the line of duty and not due to misconduct,” said Flannery. “These Sailors are true American heroes who loved doing what they did. They are missed and remembered, not only by their families, but by their Shipmates as well.”
The JAGMAN investigation found that the crash occurred as a result of a fire that erupted in the upper left side wall of the crew cabin, resulting in a thick smoke that filled the cabin and cockpit. This caused the aircrew to lose spatial awareness and become disoriented, resulting in the aircraft crashing into the ocean.
“Chafing between insulation covering electrical wires and the surface of an aluminum fuel transfer tube had likely enabled an electrical arc from a wire to breach the transfer tube, igniting the fuel that was inside,” said Flannery.
Post-mishap analyses revealed two small holes in an aluminum fuel transfer tube. It is likely that the chafing breached through the insulation of a conductive wire, allowing shorting/arching to the aluminum surface.
“The wire bundling near the breach was not recovered,” said Flannery. “While a short/arc event localized to the wiring within the bundle was possible, it could not be conclusively determined.”
In the weeks following the crash, the Navy directed a one-time inspection of all CH/MH-53 cabin fuel tubes and electrical wiring within 12 inches of each other for signs of chaffing. A periodic inspection schedule is currently being developed. It is anticipated that this new requirement will be released in approximately three to four months.
“The MH-53 and its Marine Corps CH-53 version is a safe and dependable aircraft to operate,” said Flannery. “It continues to perform a vital mission which no other helicopter currently in the Navy – Marine Corps inventory can accomplish. The outstanding determination and dedication of our aircrews and maintainers are testimony to the confidence we all have in this aircraft.”
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