Army investigation cites human error in Colorado helicopter crash that killed 4

By Dan Elliott, AP
Friday, January 22, 2010

Human error cited in Army helicopter crash in Colo

DENVER — Human error is to blame for the crash of a Black Hawk helicopter on a Colorado mountain that killed all four crew members in August, the Army said Friday.

An investigation found the helicopter didn’t have enough power for the high-altitude landing it was attempting near the summit of 14,421-foot Mount Massive during a training mission, Army spokeswoman Kimberly Tiscione said.

Tiscione said the investigation concluded the crew’s flight plan didn’t take into account the helicopter’s performance limits at that altitude. Thinner air at high altitudes reduces the power of aircraft engines and affects aircraft handling.

No mechanical failures were identified.

The helicopter and crew were from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, known as the Night Stalkers, at Fort Campbell, Ky.

The investigation did not assign blame to specific individuals, but the pilots are ultimately responsible for mission planning, Tiscione said.

The pilots were Chief Warrant Officer 4 Terrance W. Geer, 40, and Chief Warrant Officer 4 Robert M. Johnson, 41. Both were instructor pilots and combat veterans with multiple deployments. Geer was from Casper, Wyo., and Johnson was a Seattle native. Both their families lived in Clarksville, Tenn.

Tiscione said the Army isn’t disclosing which man was at the controls. She said that during an emergency, standard procedures require both pilots to take coordinated actions.

Geer was also an aviation safety officer and Johnson was an instrument flight examiner.

Also killed were Staff Sgt. Chad A. Tucker, 28, a helicopter mechanic, and Staff Sgt. Paul R. Jackson, 33, an aviation standardization noncommissioned officer.

All four crew members were decorated combat veterans with 10 to 20 deployments each. Tiscione praised their experience, knowledge and dedication.

Tucker was a native of Titusville, Fla.. whose family lived at Fort Campbell. Jackson was a native of Lancaster, Md. He is survived by a daughter but it wasn’t known where she lived.

Tiscione said the unit has changed its procedures to include more specific information about altitude in flight plans. Altitude was already an element in the plans, but this will make them more detailed, she said.

Tiscione said the Night Stalkers often must fly in extreme conditions, including high-altitude takeoffs and landings, and they train in Colorado and elsewhere to get accustomed to those conditions.

She said the crash site was at about 14,200 feet.

The Colorado Army National Guard operates a high-altitude aviation training center near Vail, but the helicopter from Fort Campbell wasn’t working with the center.

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