Report: Pilot error blamed for Black Hawk crash that killed 5

Army investigation reveals cause of Black Hawk crash that killed 5

KAENA POINT, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - An Army investigation has determined that a fatal Black Hawk crash off Kaena Point last August during a night training exercise was caused because the pilots experienced "spatial disorientation."

That's according to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, which obtained a copy of an investigation report through the federal Freedom of Information Act.

The Pentagon confirms the accident prevention report was conducted by the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center out of Fort Rucker, Alabama.

According to the Star-Advertiser, overall findings and recommendations were redacted from the copy of the report they received, but there were several revelations, including that Army officials found no material or mechanical defects or administrative errors.

The crash happened during a night-vision goggle training flight on Aug. 15, 2017 — during which two Black Hawks from Wheeler Army Airfield were flying in tandem over the waters of Haleiwa.

According to the report obtained by the Star-Advertiser, just 14 minutes into the training exercise, the pilots experienced "spatial disorientation," which occurs when aviators can't determine their position and altitude relative to the earth's surface.

Investigators believe that's when the Black Hawk took a dive and hit the water about a mile west of Kaena Point with such "tremendous force" it broke into multiple pieces, which dive crews eventually found 130 feet down on the ocean floor.

All five servicemembers on board were killed. The report indicates the Armed Forces Medical Examiner has determined their cause of death was multiple blunt force trauma and three of the five soldiers were identified after trace remains discovered among floating debris were matched to their DNA.

All five soldiers were with the 2nd Battalion, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade based out of Wheeler Army Airfield and have been identified as 41-year-old Chief Warrant Officer Brian Woeber; 32-year-old Chief Warrant Officer Stephen Cantrell; 26-year-old 1st Lt. Kathryn Bailey; 33-year-old Staff Sgt. Abigail Milam; and 30-year-old Sgt. Michael Nelson.

According to the Advertiser, the mission briefing officer had assessed the overall risk for the training flight as "low". The report indicated one pilot was in the midst of multi-aircraft formation training, while the crew chief was being evaluated for her annual proficiency and readiness test.

The Combat Readiness investigation also revealed that no one on board the second Black Hawk witnessed the crash, because the soldier who had been observing the helicopter, "Army 20556," was preoccupied with a fuel check. A second investigation, known as an Army 15-6 inquiry, is expected to be made public once it's complete.

Hawaii News Now has reached out to the Pentagon and the Combat Readiness Center to request our own copy of the report.

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