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Helicopter accident report raises questions about 2015 Black Hawk crash 

click to enlarge A copy of the accident report includes photos of the totaled helicopter. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • A copy of the accident report includes photos of the totaled helicopter.

You could be excused for thinking the crash of a Black Hawk helicopter on Sept. 2, 2015, in Pike National Forest during a Fort Carson training mission was no big deal. Authorities reported at the time that only two soldiers were injured, with the other two being treated and released that same day, according to news reports. But the Army's accident report, which was obtained by the Independent, shows that the crash caused $7 million in damage to the aircraft and injured all four of the craft's crew members, which cost the Army $2.3 million.

The Indy reported on the drawbacks of the Army's helicopter training program — including the possibility of starting fires, disturbing wildlife, and being excessively noisy — in its March 19, 2014, cover story, "Hard Landings."

The cause of the 2015 crash is being kept secret. The Army cited Freedom of Information Act exemptions to withhold information about personnel involved, witness statements and the investigation board's findings, opinions, conclusions, analysis and recommendations.

But the report raises questions about the helicopter's maintenance as well as how the rescue was carried out. "A review of the aircraft historical records and logbook indicated the aircraft had accumulated 6,392 flight hours prior to the accident," the report states, "and was not considered airworthy due to numerous maintenance and clerical errors."

Other problems cited in the report included a concern that during the rescue there was no communications plan, causing everyone to talk on the same medical evacuation internal frequency, because no other frequencies were available.

The crash happened as the helicopter's crew was training for how to respond to enemy combatants' fire, the report said, a mission that was new to the crew. The aircraft plummeted into a grove of aspens 11 miles northwest of the Air Force Academy. It landed on its right side, with the aft portion of the tailboom torn off and hydraulic lines and electrical wiring loosely attached. The craft was a total loss, the report says.

After the pilot regained consciousness, he called out to determine status of the others. Only a crew chief responded and then extricated himself and the instructor, who was unconscious.

After observing flames behind the aircraft, the pilot told the others to help move the semi-conscious pilot-in-command, or the person ultimately responsible, farther away.

The pilot then tried to call for help on his Combat Survivor Evader Locator radio with no response. He tried calling 911 on his personal cell phone, also with no results. The pilot then climbed a rock formation to gain cell phone service and again called 911.

A civilian helicopter that responded couldn't land at the site due to the dense forest and lacked hoist capabilities, so two Fort Carson med-evac helicopters then responded. One was given incorrect grid coordinates and flew 40 miles away from the crash site before coming back, the report says.

The first aircraft to arrive took the pilot-in-command to Memorial Hospital, arriving three hours after the crash. The second rescue helicopter took the other three injured soldiers to Fort Carson, where medics intended to take them to Evans Army Community Hospital. But Evans personnel decided they should go to Memorial, so they were taken there and arrived about four hours after the crash.

The report notes that a flight surgeon was available at the Butts Army Airfield hangar but wasn't informed of the crash or included in the rescue crew.

The next day, all but the pilot-in-command were released from the hospital.

The number of days missed and cost of injuries, according to the report, were: instructor, five days missed, $13,300; pilot, 18 days, $44,500; crew chief, 18 days, $61,500; pilot-in-command, 30 days, $2.2 million.

The stated purpose of the report is accident prevention.

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