Marine investigation concludes deadly chopper collision caused by pilot error

Image Credit: KHON
Image Credit: KHON

OAHU, HI (KHON) — Pilot error caused two military helicopters to collide, killing all 12 Marines on board.

The U.S. Marine Corps has wrapped an investigation into the Jan. 14 incident, when two CH-53E helicopters crashed off Oahu’s North Shore.

The recovery of human remains led to positive identification of nine of the 12 Marines involved in the incident. The remaining three were never recovered, however all 12 were officially declared dead.

Search suspended for Marines missing after helicopters crash

Officials say the investigation determined that the aircraft failed to maintain adequate distance during the night training. Investigators believe low-light conditions made it difficult for the aircrew to judge the distance between aircraft, which led to the collision.

Lt. Col. Curtis L. Hill, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Pacific spokesman, released the following statement:

The Judge Advocate General Manual Investigation into the CH-53E mishap off the Coast of Oahu on January 14, 2016, has been completed by the investigating officer and endorsed by the Commanding General of III Marine Expeditionary Force.

The investigation found the primary cause of this mishap to be pilot error. The aircrew for these Hawaii-based aircraft were conducting night flight training off the coast when the aircraft collided midair, killing all 12 U.S. Marines onboard. The investigation determined that the aircraft failed to maintain adequate distance during the flight and the aircraft collided. Investigators believe that the low light conditions made it difficult for the aircrew to recognize the rapid decrease in separation between the aircraft which led to the collision.

Investigators found that all pilots and aircrew were qualified in accordance with regulations and standards and medically fit for duty. All evidence indicates both aircraft were mechanically sound. Investigators found the main contributing factors were low aircraft readiness leading to inadequate pilot proficiency, human factors, and the squadron’s lack of focus on basic aviation practices.

The command investigation was conducted by III Marine Expeditionary Force.

We offer our sincere gratitude to the men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard, Federal Fire Department, Honolulu Fire and Police Departments, Honolulu Ocean Safety, U.S. Navy, U.S. Army and all those involved for their tireless search and recovery efforts. This loss of life was tragic and is felt deeply in the Marine Corps community; our thoughts go out to the families of all those affected by this incident.”