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US pilot ‘misinterpreted navigation displays’ in Iraq helicopter crash that killed 7, probe finds

A HH-60 Pavehawk with the 101st Rescue Squadron conducts training Nov. 25 2014, around Westhampton Beach, N.Y. (New York Air National Guard by Senior Airman Christopher S. Muncy/Released)
October 30, 2018

An investigation into a March helicopter crash that killed seven U.S. service members who were on board the HH-60G Pave Hawk has determined the cause of the deadly accident.

A report released Monday by the Air Combat Command Accident Investigation Board said the pilot “misinterpreted aircraft navigation displays, which caused the formation to overfly the intended destination.”

Because of the error, the helicopter struck a steel cable and then crashed in an uninhabited desert area near Al Qaim, Iraq, on March 15.

“As a result, the aircraft descended into an unplanned location, striking a 3/8-inch diameter galvanized steel cable strung horizontally between two 341-foot high towers. The cable quickly entangled in the HH-60G’s main rotor assembly resulting in catastrophic damage and an unflyable condition,” the report said.

The aircraft, valued at $49 million and assigned to the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, was destroyed upon impact.

The seven service members killed were:

  • Captain Mark K. Weber, 29, of Colorado Springs, Colorado. He was assigned to the 38th Rescue Squadron at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia.
  • Captain Andreas B. O’Keeffe, 37, of Center Moriches, New York.
  • Captain Christopher T. Zanetis, 37, of Long Island City, New York.
  • Master Sergeant Christopher J. Raguso, 39, of Commack, New York.
  • Staff Sergeant Dashan J. Briggs, 30, of Port Jefferson Station, New York. All four were assigned to the 106th Rescue Wing at the Francis S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base, New York.
  • Master Sergeant William R. Posch, 36, of Indialantic, Florida.
  • Staff Sergeant Carl P. Enis, 31, of Tallahassee, Florida. Both were assigned to the 308th Rescue Squadron, Air Force Reserve, at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida.

The report pointed out that there were no civilian injuries or private property damage.

“The mishap occurred during a mission to preposition a helicopter formation to a landing zone closer to the vicinity of ground operations,” the report added.

The men were an acting part of Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR). Operation Inherent Resolve is a Combined Joint Task Force with other nations to defeat ISIS in designated areas of Iraq and Syria, and sets conditions for follow-on operations to increase regional stability.

This is the statement that officials released shortly after the accident in March:

At approximately 6:45 p.m. GMT March 15, 2018, a U.S. HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter crashed in western Iraq. The crash does not appear to be a result of enemy activity. This incident is under investigation.

“All personnel aboard were killed in the crash,” said Brig. Gen. Jonathan P. Braga, director of operations, Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve. “This tragedy reminds us of the risks our men and women face every day in service of our nations. We are thinking of the loved ones of these service members today.”

An accompanying U.S. helicopter immediately reported the crash and a quick reaction force comprised of Iraqi Security Forces and Coalition members secured the scene.

“We are grateful to the Iraqi Security Forces for their immediate assistance in response to this tragic incident,” Braga said. “Iraqi Security Forces continue to demonstrate their professionalism, capabilities and flexibility as we continue the fight towards a lasting defeat of Daesh.”

Names of the fallen will be released by the U.S. Department of Defense after next of kin have been notified.