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Navy Helicopter Crash Aboard USS Ronald Reagan Is Part of 82% Spike in Accidents
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Navy Helicopter Crash Aboard USS Ronald Reagan Is Part of 82% Spike in Accidents

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PHILIPPINE SEA – October 19, 2018

The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) resumed flight operations after an MH-60R Seahawk assigned to the “Saberhawks” of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 77 made an emergency landing and crashed on the ship’s flight deck shortly after takeoff at approximately 9:00 a.m., Oct. 19, Task Force 70 Commander reported.

”Service members injured in the crash are in stable condition for non-life threatening injuries that ranged from minor abrasions and lacerations to fractures. The most seriously injured were medically evacuated off the ship to a hospital in the Philippines, while remaining injured are under evaluation by Ronald Reagan medical staff. Families of the injured were notified in accordance with Navy policy,” the statement said.

Lt. Cmdr. Matt Knight, the Task Force 70 spokesman, told Stars and Stripes newspaper that four crew members were aboard the helicopter when the crash happened. He said 12 people were injured and the carrier sustained minimal damage.

Knight said there were four air crewmembers onboard the helicopter when the crash happened.

The crash occurred while the Ronald Reagan Strike Group was conducting routine operations in the Philippine Sea, which spreads north and northeast of the Philippines. The cause of the mishap is under investigation.

The United States Seventh Fleet is commanded by a 3­star Navy Flag officer, Vice Adm. Phillip G. Sawyer, since August 23, 2017. At any given time, there are roughly 50­70 ships and submarines, 140 aircraft, and approximately 20,000 sailors in the Seventh Fleet.

The Ronald Reagan Strike Group is forward-deployed to the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations in the Indo-Pacific Region. Whereas other carriers are homeported in the U.S. and deploy periodically, USS Ronald Reagan is permanently forward­deployed to Yokosuka, Japan and spends about half of each year at sea.

USS Ronald Reagan, when combined with guided missile destroyers and cruisers, creates a carrier strike group of up to 12 ships and 75 aircraft.

Last week, the nation’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier visited South Korea’s Jeju Island to participate in the country’s International Fleet Review events, according to the ship’s official Facebook page.

In November, a C-2A Greyhound cargo plane carrying 11 people went down in the Philippine Sea while flying to the Ronald Reagan from Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni.

Eight passengers survived, but three sailors – Lt. Steven Combs, Seaman Matthew Chialastri and Seaman Apprentice Bryan Grosso – died in the crash.

In May 2017, the foreign-policy magazine National Interest obtained emails from top Navy officials discouraging the disclosure of readiness numbers—figures that report how many aircraft are ready to fight in the event of a major conflict. At the time, nearly two-thirds of the Navy and Marine F-18s were unfit to fly. In 2015, the Marines’ CH-53E fleet was in even worse shape, with just 23% of aircraft able to fly a mission. A March 2017 email from Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis instructed the heads of public affairs across the military to “be cautious about publicly telegraphing readiness shortfalls.” The guidance reportedly came from Secretary Mattis himself, according to National Interest.

Recently, the Navy has put aviation safety data that used to be public behind a wall, Jason Paladino from The Atlantic wrote on October 8.

The decision to suppress this data from public view came as the Navy, which also oversees Marine aviation, was dealing with headlines pointing out that its safety problems are increasing faster than any other branch: The Navy has seen an 82% spike in accidents between the 2013 and 2017 fiscal years, while the overall military increase for that same period is 40%.

According to data obtained by Military Times, U.S. Navy aviation mishaps involving the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet have jumped 108% over the past five years. From fiscal years 2013 to 2017 the number of Super Hornet accidents rose from 45 to 94 per year.

Several Super Hornets were struck by lightning during carrier operations. There were engine fires, towing and flight deck collisions during taxi maneuvers, panels blown off aircraft by weather or the exhaust of other aircraft during shipboard operations, maintainer injuries and ground maintenance-generated damage, such as objects being closed within the Super Hornet’s canopy.

Like the other services, however, the Navy’s mishap spike began after 2013, the year automatic budget cuts known as sequestration took effect.

To meet the budget caps, the Navy cut depot work and purchases of spare parts, which meant fewer available aircraft. It also let go of experienced mid-grade maintainers and their supervisors: losses that left fewer chief and senior chief petty officers on the flight line, even as the depth of experience of newer E-4s and E-5s dropped, Military Times wrote.

“There're likely to be similar reasons for increased aviation incidents and SWOs crashing their ships. Let's see, less training, increased canablization rates, increased ops tempo, fewer E7s & E8s on the hangar deck, Flag officers always saying we can do it, and a political structure unwilling to pay for what they want done. What could possible go wrong?” one of the readers questioned.

The aircraft that experienced the most accidents over the 2011-2017 period was the AH-64D, with 86 accidents. Of the 86 mishaps, 20 were categorized as Class A. Those mostly had to do with pilot error. Runner up for most accidents is the UH-60 Alpha-model, with 75 total accidents. Seven of those were class A incidents. The UH-60 Limas also experienced their fair share of accidents with 63 total, of which, nine were class A mishaps, according to a Military Times analysis.

The removal of this data from public view is troubling for aviators themselves, too. Their aircraft may now face less scrutiny both from the public and from reporters. By removing this information, the Navy has obviously reduced its transparency. Even though the Navy’s accident data will hypothetically still be available through a request system, the act of making the data private effectively makes it secret.

When reached by Paladino, a Navy representative responded that accident data has been placed in a section of the website requiring a DoD Common Access Card (CAC) for access.

“This computer system, including all related equipment, networks, and network devices, including Internet access, are provided only for authorized U.S. Government use. U.S. Government computer systems may be monitored for all lawful purposes, including ensuring that their use is authorized, for management of the system, to facilitate protection against unauthorized access, and to verify security procedures, survivability, and operational security. Monitoring includes authorized attacks by authorized U.S. Government entities to test or verify the security of this system. During monitoring, information may be examined, recorded, copied, and used for authorized purposes. All information including personal information, placed on or sent over this system may be monitored. Use of this U.S. Government system, authorized or unauthorized, constitutes consent to monitoring of this system. Unauthorized use may subject you to criminal prosecution. Evidence of unauthorized use collected during monitoring may be used for administrative, criminal or other adverse actions,” a U.S. government warning on the website says.

How often were aircraft crashing? How did that number compare to prior years? Which aircraft were most accident-prone? Without being able to access these records directly, the public has to rely on an understaffed and overworked team that handles public-records requests. The Navy made this decision to limit access to the information even though none of the files or information on the old version of the website were marked “For Official Use Only,” Paladino noted.

Author: USA Really