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Sunday April 9, 2000

19 Killed in Marine Plane Crash

MARANA, Ariz. USA ( AP ) - A Marine Corps aircraft crashed while landing at an airport west of Tucson Saturday night and was engulfed in flames, authorities said. Nineteen people were killed, a Marine Corps spokesman said.

The plane went down with 4 crew members and 15 passengers aboard, said Gunnery Sgt. Nathan Portman of the Marine Corps Air Station at Yuma, where the flight originated.

All the victims were Marines but officials said they did not know where they had been based. The aircraft was not based at the Yuma air station.



Details of Marine Crash Expected

WASHINGTON , USA ( AP, April 11 ) - Blast from the crash of the Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey in Arizona last weekend rocked a second Osprey hovering nearby, causing it to experience a hard landing, the top Marine Corps general said today.

Gen. James Jones, commandant of the Marine Corps, said the rough landing was caused by concussion from the Osprey slamming into the ground and exploding in fire - not by any mechanical or other problem. The first Osprey to arrive was hovering just above the airfield when the second one crashed, he said.

Nineteen Marines were killed in the crash.

Jones also said the crash was witnessed by the crew chief of the first Osprey. He said this eyewitness's description of what he saw was likely to play an important role in the accident investigation. Jones spoke to The Associated Press today in an impromptu interview outside his Pentagon office.

The commandant also expressed concern that families of the 19 victims may have a mistaken impression about the status of the Osprey fleet. He said some have the impression that they were experimental aircraft.

``These are certified airworthy aircraft,'' Jones said. ``We didn't put people at risk. There is no such thing as human guinea pigs in this.''

Contrary to what a senior Marine Corps aviation official told reporters Monday, Jones said the crash was not recorded on infrared tape by a Marine Corps F-18 fighter flying overhead. Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Rob Winchester said today that Lt. Gen. Fred McCorkle had been mistaken when he said the tape included images of the Osprey as it nosed into the ground Saturday.

Winchester said McCorkle was preparing to provide a more detailed explanation today of the mistaken reference to a tape.

Even without the tape, extensive technical information is expected to be to be revealed on the Osprey's flight data recorder. McCorkle said that should enable the Marines to determine the accident's cause fairly quickly.

``I think within a week we'll have a pretty good idea'' of the cause, McCorkle said.

As of this morning, the flight data recorder had not been recovered, Marine Corps officials said.

The crash Saturday night was the deadliest air disaster for the Marines since 22 died in a helicopter crash in South Korea in 1989. The last crash of an Osprey was in 1992, when a prototype version crashed into the Potomac River near Quantico, Va., and killed seven people.

In Saturday's incident, the crew chief of a second Osprey, landing at the same airfield just ahead of the crash, saw the Osprey nose into the ground, McCorkle said. There was no distress signal from the plane and no other sign of trouble, he said.

McCorkle said the weather did not appear a factor. Winds were calm at the time, and visibility was 20 miles.

Four Ospreys were involved in the mission, plus the F-18 circling overhead. The F-18 was equipped with a Forward Looking Infrared system that enables the pilot to ``see'' targets through darkness, McCorkle said Monday.

Both the Osprey's co-pilots had extensive flying experience. Maj. John A. Brow had logged 97 hours in the Osprey, Maj. Brooks S. Gruber 86 hours. Brow had 3,777 total flight hours in various aircraft; Gruber had 2,117 hours.

The Osprey is unique in its ability to take off like a helicopter, rotate its propellers 95 degrees and fly like an airplane. It was attempting to land at an airfield in Marana, Ariz., about 30 miles northwest of Tucson, when it crashed, burned and killed the four crew members and 15 others on board. They were participating in a test of how the aircraft would perform in a simulated ``noncombatant evacuation,'' a carefully choreographed rescue of civilians from a hostile environment.

McCorkle said it was unclear whether the Osprey had completed the transition from airplane mode to helicopter mode for landing.

Lapan said it was possible but unlikely the crash could disrupt the timetable for moving the Osprey from its final testing phase into actual deployment with Marine squadrons. He said no firm judgment could be made until the crash investigation is complete.

The current phase of ``operational evaluation,'' in which Marines fly four production-model Ospreys in realistic training missions, began last October and is to be finished in June. McCorkle stressed the purpose of this training is to evaluate, not test, the aircraft and to adjust tactics.

Jones, called a temporary halt to flying Ospreys. ``More than anything else it's out of respect for the families'' of the victims, rather than a need to reinspect the remaining planes, McCorkle said. He said it was likely that flying would resume ``in the next couple of days.''

McCorkle, who has flown the Osprey and is proficient in both helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, described the MV-22 as ``the most stable and easiest aircraft I've flown.'' He said the plane has been flown for 3,600 hours since testing began.

``We're confident in the program because of the amount of testing we've done and the number of hours we've flown it,'' spokesman Lapan said. ``We've really put this aircraft through its paces.''

The Osprey, named for a diving bird of prey, is manufactured by Boeing Co. and Bell Helicopter Textron. A decision is due in October on moving from ``operational evaluation,'' or field testing, to full-scale production. The current plan is for the Marines to buy 360 Ospreys, the Navy 48 and the Air Force 50.



News Update

Wednesday May 10, 2000


Mechanical failure ruled out in Osprey crash

WASHINGTON, USA ( Reuters ) - The U.S. Marine Corps said on Tuesday it had ruled out mechanical failure as the cause of an April 8 Arizona crash of its revolutionary MV-22 tilt-rotor aircraft that killed all 19 Marines on board.

But the general in charge of Marine Corps aviation also told reporters the investigation was not over and no determination of pilot error had been made, although the MV-22 ``Osprey'' was descending too fast before the fiery night crash.

Lt. Gen. Fred McCorkle said the corps would resume flying test models of the aircraft this week and expected to resume training flights of production models with troops in a week or two.

``We have ruled out mechanical failure. I can say that it was not mechanical and it was not software,'' McCorkle told a Pentagon press conference.

Big money is at stake in the future of the MV-22, built by Boeing Co. and Bell Helicopter Textron. A full-scale production decision is scheduled for October and the Marine Corps plans to buy 360 of them at a cost of $44 million each.

The twin-engine aircraft have been grounded since the night training crash at a small airfield near Tucson, Arizona. McCorkle said Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Jones had so much confidence in the MV-22 that he and Air Force Chief-of-Staff Gen. Michael Ryan would fly on the initial troop training flight later this month.

``It would be very inappropriate at this time to say that this was pilot error,'' McCorkle told reporters. But he said the aircraft in question was descending at more than 1,000 feet per minute - faster than the 800 feet recommended - when it apparently stalled and fell to the ground.

The general said that members of Congress had been informed of - and approved of - the decision by Jones to resume flights of the controversial MV-22.

The aircraft has been in development for a decade and McCorkle said he was confident that a decision for full-scale production will be made in October of this year.

He told reporters that an intense investigation to date had turned up no mechanical problem and that the probe was now concentrating on an apparent final-seconds plunge following a stall known as ``Power Settling''.

He said the pilot put the aircraft into a bank of between five and 15 degrees when the MV-22 was less than 300 feet from the ground and that the aircraft lost lift, rolled over and crashed nose-first into the ground.

``When he (the pilot) hit 15 degrees angle of bank, he was in big trouble at this point,'' McCorkle said. ``I think that by the time he realised that he was in trouble, it was too late'' to correct the fatal plunge.

McCorkle said the problem came in the final six seconds of flight at an altitude of about 300 feet and that the pilot was descending at more than 1,000 feet per minute at a forward speed of 30 knots.

Recommended landing parameters for the MV-22 call for a maximum descent rate of 800 feet per minute at a forward speed of less than 40 knots, the general added.

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