Military

Report: Wire Strike Caused Fatal 2018 US Air Force Pave Hawk Accident in Iraq

By Vivienne Machi | October 29, 2018
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November 9, 2007 - A Utah National Guard Soldier and 19th Special Forces member are lifted on board an HH-60 Pave Hawk during a combat search and rescue integration exercise over the Utah Test and Training Range. Members of the 34th Weapons Squadron from Nellis Air Force Base led the search and recovery training. The exercise expanded the integration with Utah's 211th Aviation Group AH-64 Apache Joint Rotary Wing, 4th Fighter Squadron F-16 Fighting Falcon assets from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, and special operations forces. Exercise participants also conducted extensive joint combat search and rescue operations against surface-to-air threats. The exercise is being run held November 6 through 15.

A Utah National Guard Soldier and 19th Special Forces member are lifted on board an HH-60 Pave Hawk during a combat-search-and-rescue integration exercise over the Utah Test and Training Range.

The U.S. Air Force has determined a wire strike caused a Pave Hawk helicopter to crash in Iraq in March, killing all on board.

On March 15, an HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter assigned to the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing under U.S. Central Command struck a galvanized steel cable and crashed near Al Qaim in Anbar Province when it overshot its intended landing zone.

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Four flight crewmembers and three pararescue men were killed in the accident. The helicopter, built by Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky subsidiary and valued at about $49 million, was destroyed on impact, according to an Air Force Air Combat Command statement released Oct. 29. No civilian injuries or private property damage were reported.

According to the Accident Investigation Board report released Monday, the pilot misinterpreted aircraft navigation displays, causing the helicopter formation to overfly the targeted destination.

“The mishap occurred during a mission to preposition a helicopter formation to a landing zone closer to the vicinity of ground operations,” the report read.

“As a result, the aircraft descended into an unplanned location, striking a 3/8-inch diameter galvanized steel cable strung horizontally between two 341-foot high towers,” it added. “The cable quickly entangled in the HH-60G’s main rotor assembly resulting in catastrophic damage and an unflyable condition.”

The main cause of the accident was found to be due to the mishap pilot misinterpreting the aircraft navigation displays, the report said. However, the Accident Investigation Board president also found several additional factors contributed to the fatal crash, including a breakdown in communications to detect and report the navigation error. Low illumination conditions meant that night-vision goggles were not sufficient to see the cables, which was an additional cause.

The HH-60G Pave Hawk, a variant of the Army’s Black Hawk helicopter, is used for personnel and medical recovery and combat search-and-rescue (CSAR) missions and has been in service since the 1980s. The Air Force in 2014 awarded Sikorsky a $1.6 billion contract for the engineering, manufacturing and development phase of a new CSAR helicopter, dubbed the HH-60W. The company is currently building nine aircraft under that contract, with first flight expected by the end of 2018.

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