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Investigation finds corroded propeller blade responsible for 2017 KC-130 crash that killed 16

A KC-130T assigned to Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron, Marine Aircraft Group 49, 4th Marine Air Wing, deploys a high-speed drogue during an aircraft aerial refueling mission for the MAG 49 Combined Arms Exercise at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., June 16, 2018. The KC-130T Hercules is a multi-role, multi-mission tactical tanker and transporter which provides the support required by Marine Air Ground Task Forces. (Lance Cpl. Ernesto G. Rojascorrea/U.S. Marine Corps)

A corroded propeller blade that broke loose mid-flight and jump-started a string of events caused the horrific crash of a Marine Corps KC-130T into Mississippi farmland in July 2017, killing all 16 servicemembers aboard the doomed cargo plane, investigators determined.

The crash of the plane during a cross-country flight from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in North Carolina to Naval Air Facility El Centro in southern California could have been prevented had civilian Air Force technicians discovered the corrosion during the aircraft’s last major propeller inspection in 2011, the investigators wrote in a 73-page report on their findings made public Wednesday.

The technicians with the Air Force-run Warner Robins Air Logistics Compound on Robbins Air Force Base in Georgia, which is responsible for overhauling C-130 propellers for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, “should have detected and removed” the corrosion, investigators wrote. They blamed “negligent practices, poor procedural compliance, lack of adherence to publications and an ineffective” quality control program at the compound. They also cited insufficient oversight by the Navy.

Additionally, technicians failed to follow Navy guidelines for inspecting C-130 propellers, which are more stringent than guidelines for the Air Force. Air Force C-130s make up the vast majority of the military’s C-130 fleet the technicians work on.

The Air Force said the service has since agreed to adopt the Navy’s propeller policies.

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The plane – dubbed Yankee 72 – had flown more than 1,300 hours after its last maintenance update at the Georgia facility before the corroded propeller blade cracked and broke loose July 10, 2017 over the Mississippi Delta. The blade traveled from the left side of the plan and tore through plane’s fuselage. That impact caused the propeller from one of the plane’s two right-side engines to break loose and dislodge the plane’s stabilizer.

Within moments, the KC-130T broke into three pieces at 20,000 feet before crashing into a soybean field near Itta Bena, Mississippi, leaving a fiery debris field scattered for more than a mile. Most likely, everyone aboard the plane would have immediately experience shock, disorientation and below-freezing conditions, investigators wrote.

They never had any chance to save the plane.

The flight crew killed in the crash included members of Marine Aerial Refueling and Transport Squadron 452, based at Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, New York: Capt. Sean Elliott, Maj. Caine Goyette, Sgt. Owen Lennon, Staff Sgt. Joshua Snowden, Gunnery Sgt. Brendan Johnson, Gunnery Sgt. Mark Hopkins, Sgt. Julian Kevianne, Marine Cpl. Daniel Baldassare and Cpl. Collin Schaaff.

The others killed belonged to the Marines’ elite special operations unit, 2nd Raider Battalion based at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. They were Marine Sgt. Dietrich Schmieman, Sgt. Joseph Murray, Sgt. Chad Jenson, Sgt. Julian Kevianne, Sgt. Talon Leach, Staff Sgt. Robert Cox and Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Ryan Lohrey, a hospital corpsman assigned to the unit. The group was traveling to California to conduct pre-deployment training.

While investigators concluded Marines with Aerial Refueling and Transport Squadron 452 had not properly inspected propeller blades or kept detailed maintenance records, they determined the corrosion would not likely have been detected by such routine inspections.

Instead, they place the vast majority of blame squarely on Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex workers. The investigation cites technicians conducting propeller maintenance without consulting documented procedures and failing to properly record from which military service the propellers they were working on belonged.

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The Air Force cannot say which technicians had inspected the corroded blade in 2011. It had disposed of maintenance records after two years because of its own policy.

Investigators found problems in 13 of the downed KC-130T’s 16 propeller blades that should have been caught by technicians when the plane was last at the Georgia facility in 2011. That includes 12 propeller blades found to have undetected corrosion.

Following the plane crash, the Marine Corps and Navy grounded their entire fleet of C-130s until all of the planes’ propellers could be replaced. Investigators outlined 17 steps to standardize and improve propeller blade maintenance and overhaul procedures at Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex.

In September 2017, the complex halted all C-130 blade overhauls, which is expected to continue into early 2019. Officials said they were continuing to work to implement necessary changes raised by investigators of the July 2017 KC-130T crash.

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© 2018 the Stars and Stripes

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