Human error blamed for crash of UH-1N Huey near Pendleton
October 05, 2004
By Christian Lowe
Times staff writer
Loss of “situational awareness” by aircrew caused the crash of a UH-1N Huey utility helicopter in January that killed four, a newly released investigation report shows.
The helicopter, which belonged to the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 169, was flying a nighttime training mission alongside an AH-1W Super Cobra from the same squadron at a Pendleton training range when it struck a high tension power line transmission tower and crashed.
Killed were crew chiefs Lance Cpl. Joshua D. Harris, 21, and Staff Sgt. Lori Anne Privette, 27, as well as the pilot, Capt. Adam E. Miller, 29, and copilot, 1st Lt. James Lawlor, 26.
The pilots didn’t see the transmission tower as they were flying up Talega Canyon practicing terrain flight maneuvering using night-vision goggles, according a copy of the Judge Advocate General Manual investigation report into the Jan. 22 crash, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
The helicopter, flying at more than 100 miles per hour, struck one of the transmission tower’s arms about three feet from the end of the arm. The tower’s arm tore through the co-pilot’s side of the aircraft, severing Lawlor’s leg and slashing the Huey’s tail boom and rotor before it plummeted nearly 130 feet to the canyon floor below.
“The aircrew did not see the high-tension power line tower that they impacted until they hit it or it was too late to maneuver the aircraft to avoid the tower,” the report states.
Mechanical failure did not cause the crash, investigators found.
The squadron was set to deploy to Iraq with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit in the summer and had recently joined the MEU’s reinforced helicopter squadron, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 166.
According to the report, Lawlor survived the impact and was thrown about 10 feet from the wreckage still attached to his cockpit seat. Navy rescue personnel who responded to the accident told investigators Lawlor was conscious when they reached him around 7:30 p.m. The rescuers arrived more than 30 minutes after the pilots of the nearby Super Cobra, Capt. William Chesarek and 1st Lt. Ryan Schiller, reported the accident.
Lawlor lost consciousness on his way to Mission Trauma Center in Mission Viejo, Calif., where he was pronounced dead near 9 p.m.
The families of Lawlor, Miller and Harris are suing San Diego Gas & Electric Co., which owns the power lines, for wrongful death, alleging the company improperly marked the power lines.
The crash investigation report notes neither the power lines nor the towers had any marking lights in the accident area, though pilots were told about obstructions in the training area, including the power lines and towers, during pre-flight briefings.
The Federal Aviation Administration requires marking lights for towers 200 feet above ground level. The transmission towers throughout Talega Canyon range from 125 to 140 feet above ground level, the report states.