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Sat, Jul 05, 2003

Military Investigators Find Variety Of Factors In May HH-60G Crash

Six Crewmembers Killed In Afghanistan

The dark of night. A complex refueling operation at high altitude. A pilot who may have suffered a heart attack. All of these factors may have contributed to the May 23 crash of a Sikorsky HH-60G "Pave Hawk" Special Operations Helicopter in Afghanistan, according to a military report issued Thursday.

In the Dark Of Night

The investigation, led by Brig. Gen. Gregory Power (USAF), found that the accident occurred at 9,000 MSL in a mountainous area near the Afghan town of Ghazni. The crew was airlifting two Afghan children for medical care. It was just past dusk, according to the report, when the Pave Hawk maneuvered for aerial refueling behind a HC-130P tanker at a mere 350 ft. AGL. That's well below the 500 foot minimum required by the military.

 While listing as the three primary causes the rapid fall of night and the high altitude, the report also detailed the autopsy performed on aircraft commander Lt. Col. John Stein. Forensic experts concluded Stein suffered from 95 percent blockage of his coronary artery.

"This raises the possibility that the aircraft commander may have been undergoing angina (news - web sites) (chest pain) cardiac arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm) or acute myocardial infarction (heart attack) during the helicopter refueling or later in the mishap sequence," the report said, as quoted by Reuters. However, one Air Force medical witness told the investigating team that Stein had no complaints about chest pains and had passed a physical which included riding a stationary bicycle. The only way to find out for sure during the flight medical would have been to operate.

No Cause Determined

The Air Force refused to issue a primary determination in the accident. However, the investigation report indicated that the Pave Hawk was trying to refuel as day turned into night, rendering the flight crew's night vision goggles less-than-effective.

"The terrain's high altitude ... combined with the 30-degree bank during the refueling aircraft's climbing turn, made it difficult to maintain the helicopter in the refueling position," the Air Force said in a statement. Local commanders will decide what, if any, disciplinary action will be taken in the incident.

FMI: www.af.mil

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