Family faults command in Marine chopper crash that killed 12

Family faults command in Marine chopper crash that killed 12

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Sgt. Dillon Semolina was one of the 12 Marines who lost their lives when two Sea Stallion helicopters collided off the North Shore in January.

His family said the accident was totally avoidable.

"The ... human errors is the commanders putting those pilots in the cockpit when they're not ready and lack of training and not taking into account their abilities or lack of abilities," said Mike De La Cruz, Semolina's stepfather.

In a report made public this week, the Marines said the pilots of the helicopters failed to maintain adequate distance during the night flight exercise and that the Kaneohe-based squadron didn't focus on basic aviation practices.

But De La Cruz, who also served in the Marines, said the report found that two pilots lacked adequate experience using night vision goggles during flight.

Complicating matters, he said the leader of the squadron was relieved of command just days before the crash due to low morale and low readiness.

"There was an issue with flight hours, an issue with command, an issue with morale, an issue with the equipment," De La Cruz said.

But even if the command were to be found negligent, legal experts said the U.S. Supreme Court bars the victims' families from suing the military.

"If you are in fact on active duty, no matter how egregious the conduct was of someone in the military, you cannot bring an action against them," said Honolulu attorney Rick Fried.

Fried, who has handled a number of suits against the military, said that had the accident involved civilians, the potential damages would be tremendous.

"Astronomical. Twelve young folks, each case would have a value in the millions," he said.

The families will get military death benefits, but they say they're not looking for money. They want to see reforms in the military command,

"Our ultimate goal is to help eliminate this type of accident of ever occurring again -- to just save future Marines," said De La Cruz.

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