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Thu, Aug 26, 2010

Coast Guard, Navy, Marines Release Reports In October Mid-Air Collision

No Single Factor Caused The Accident, But Some Finger-Pointing Is Contained In Reports

The Navy, Marine Corps and the Coast Guard have each released reports concerning a mid-air collision last October in which a Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules aircraft and a Marine AH-1W Cobra collided off the southern California coast. Nine service personnel were lost in the accident.

HC-130 File Photo

In a joint news release, the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard said all the investigations concluded that no single factor, person or unit caused the mishap, but that it was a tragic confluence of events. The three command investigations also concluded there was no misconduct on the part of any Coast Guard, Marine Corps or Navy personnel, and all three made recommendations for improving procedures, training and aviation safety.

“We are using what we found in these investigations to improve aviation safety,” said Rear Adm. Joseph Castillo, Commander of the 11th Coast Guard District. “We are committed to preventing a recurrence of this terrible tragedy. We owe nothing less to the memories of the dedicated men and woman lost in the crash, their families, their shipmates, and the public,” he said.

AH-1W Cobra File Photo

Military officials did not wait for the investigations to be completed to begin safety improvements, according to the news release. Immediately after the accident the services began reviewing policies and procedures and have already implemented many of the recommendations in the reports.

Castillo noted that aviators and technical experts from all three branches of the naval aviation community brought their own unique expertise, experience, and perspectives to the investigations. “The range of opinions and recommendations strengthens our common effort of improving aviation safety,” he said. “The services have worked closely throughout the investigations and will continue to do so as we implement changes.”

The Coast Guard plane, based in Sacramento, CA, was conducting a search and rescue mission and the Marine helicopter, based at Camp Pendleton, was involved in training when the two aircraft collided. Both aircraft were operating in a training area monitored by a Navy air traffic control center in San Diego.

In its report, the Coast Guard said that a contributing factor to the accident was that the San Diego Navy Air Traffic Controllers "did not provide operational priority" to the Coast Guard aircraft involved in the SAR operation. "The FAA operational priority for SAR missions is third, immediately following aircraft emergencies and air medical evacuations. There were no higher priority missions in (the area where the accident occurred) at the time of the mishap," the report reads.

The Marine Corps report details the different flights operating in the area where the SAR effort was taking place, including a flight of F/A-18 Hornets and a flight of four helicopters. It says that "(n)either CG1705 (the CH-130) nor Vengeance 38 (the helicopter) were under positive radar control of controllers assigned to FACSFAC SD (military air traffic control) at the time of collision; as such these aircraft were not provided control instructions by air traffic controllers that resulted in the convergence of the two mishap aircraft. Additionally, there was no agreement made between aircraft and controllers that transferred responsibility for the safe navigation of the aircraft from the aircrews to the air traffic controller.

"CG1705 and V38 (and to a certain extent the rest of the VH53 flight,the report states) failed to maintain the proper visual lookout to ensure necessary separation to prevent the midair collision. Both aircraft were operating under visual flight rules and were ultimately responsible for their own safety, navigation, and separation from other aircraft."



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