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H-53 Losses

The MH-53 and its Marine Corps CH-53 version is a safe and dependable aircraft to operate. It continues to perform a vital mission which no other helicopter currently in the Navy - Marine Corps inventory can accomplish. The outstanding determination and dedication of aircrews and maintainers are testimony to the confidence they all have in this aircraft.

This is only an exemplary, incomplete, inventory of hull losses. The ASN Accident Database has a total of about 125 incidents.

On 24 March 1984 18 U.S. Marines and 11 Republic of Korea Marines were killed when a Marine Corps CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopter crashed near Pohang, Korea, while participating in Exercise “Team Spirit ‘84.” The helicopter was one of six which took off from the Pohang Airfield for a night insertion exercise. As weather conditions deteriorated, the mission was terminated and all aircraft were returning to Pohang when the helicopter crashed into a mountainside.

On Friday, August 13, 2004 a Marine Corps CH-53D crashed in Ginowan City while attempting to make an emergency landing at MCAS Futenma. At approximately 2:17 p.m. Friday, Aug. 13, the air traffic control tower on Marine Corps Air Station Futenma received an emergency distress call from an inbound CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopter assigned to Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 265.

Notification of Marine Corps Crash Fire and Rescue, along with local Okinawa fire departments, began immediately thereafter. At approximately 2:18 p.m. the CH-53D made an emergency landing on the grounds of the Okinawa International University. During this landing, the CH-53D clipped a university building adjacent to the crash site. Marines stationed on Marine Corps Air Station Futenma witnessed the CH-53D going down, scaled two fences to get to the crash site, and pulled the three crew members away from the wreckage before the aircraft burst into flames. The actions of these brave marines helped save the lives of the aircraft crew. These marines then administered first aid to the injured crew. Other marines from MCAS Futenma entered the building that had been clipped by the helicopter and assisted in evacuating people from the building, for the safety of the students and the faculty inside.

On 20 August, an essential phase of the investigation into the cause of the mishap led to the determination that the cause was solely unique to the CH-53D involved in the accident. A small retaining device in a sub-component of the tail rotor assembly was missing, leading to a loss of tail rotor control. Following that determination, and after a thorough and complete maintenance and safety inspection of all remaining CH-53D helicopters, these aircraft were cleared for flight.

Deployment of the CH-53D helicopter to Futenma earlier was required to support mission-essential flights for the 31st MEU Operational Workup and Deployment phases. The reason that six CH-53Ds flew on 22 August 2004 was to join the 31st MEU, which had received an immediate deployment order issued by the U.S. Secretary of Defense to support the global war on terrorism.

The decision to return these six CH-53D helicopters to flight operations was not one made in haste. These six CH-53Ds were cleared for a direct flight to the USS Essex only after the commander had determined that the cause of the 13 August accident was solely unique to the CH-53D involved in the accident, and only after each of these six CH-53D aircraft had received a complete and thorough safety and maintenance inspection. This deployment was underway and those ships are headed for combat operations to fight the global war on terrorism, against a common enemy of both the U.S. and Japan. There have been no CH-53D flights since 22 August, because there have been no mission-essential flight requirements for these aircraft.

Combat stores ship USNS Spica conducted search and rescue operations off the coast of Djibouti, Africa, 17 Febrary 2006 after two U.S. Marine Corps CH-53 heavy transport helicopters crashed. The accident occurred during a routine training mission off the coast of Djibouti, a small east African country bordering the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, between Eritrea and Somalia. The two Marine helicopters were carrying 12 people. Of the 12 U.S. service members aboard the aircraft, only two survived.

The crash of an MH-53E Sea Dragon off the coast of Virginia 08 January 2014 resulted in the death of three Sailors. The MH-53E, assigned to Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron Fourteen (HM-14) and based at Naval Station Norfolk Chambers Field, was conducting a routine training exercise when the accident happened.

The JAGMAN investigation found that the crash occurred as a result of a fire that erupted in the upper left side wall of the crew cabin, resulting in a thick smoke that filled the cabin and cockpit. This caused the aircrew to lose spatial awareness and become disoriented, resulting in the aircraft crashing into the ocean.

Chafing between insulation covering electrical wires and the surface of an aluminum fuel transfer tube had likely enabled an electrical arc from a wire to breach the transfer tube, igniting the fuel that was inside. Post-mishap analyses revealed two small holes in an aluminum fuel transfer tube. It is likely that the chafing breached through the insulation of a conductive wire, allowing shorting/arching to the aluminum surface. The wire bundling near the breach was not recovered. While a short/arc event localized to the wiring within the bundle was possible, it could not be conclusively determined."

In the weeks following the crash, the Navy directed a one-time inspection of all CH/MH-53 cabin fuel tubes and electrical wiring within 12 inches of each other for signs of chaffing. A periodic inspection schedule is currently being developed. It is anticipated that this new requirement will be released in approximately three to four months.

A U.S. Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter assigned to the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) crashed at 2:00 p.m. (GMT), 01 September 2014, at sea in the Gulf of Aden as it attempted to land aboard USS Mesa Verde (LPD 19). All 25 persons aboard the helicopter; 17 Marines and eight Navy Sailors, were safely recovered and are aboard USS Mesa Verde. Personnel who sustained minor injuries in the crash were treated aboard USS Mesa Verde. The crash was not a result of hostile activity. The aircraft was transferring the Marines and Sailors back to USS Mesa Verde from training ashore in nearby Djibouti.

A threefold increase in helicopter crash deaths in 2015 raised questions whether budget cuts were endangering troops by forcing deep cuts in maintenance and training. Twelve helicopter crashes in 2015 killed 30 servicemembers — three times as many deaths as in 2014. Twelve more died 14 January 2016 when two U.S. Marine CH-53 Super Stallions collided off the coast of Oahu in Hawaii during a night training flight. Marine commanders including Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, deputy Marine commandant for aviation, and Gen. Robert Neller, commandant of the Marine Corps, were looking at why so many helicopters were crashing.

As of January 2005 there were 38 MH-53E Helicopters; 151 CH-53E Helicopters; and 40 CH-53D Helicopters in the Marine Corps inventory.

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Page last modified: 29-02-2016 18:24:59 ZULU