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'It's Getting Worse' : Copter Victim's Tape Detailed Craft's Faults

May 14, 1986|KIM MURPHY | Times Staff Writer

Sikorsky has referred all questions to the Marine Corps, and Marine officials at El Toro, who supervise operations at Twentynine Palms and Tustin, said they would have no comment on the tape recording until they have reviewed it.

Cites Safety Record

But in a prepared statement Tuesday, Maj. Anthony Rothfork of Marine Corps headquarters pointed out that since tail rotor drive modifications were completed in September of last year, the CH-53E had flown more than 6,000 hours without mishap.

"When compared to other helicopters in their first five years of operational service, the CH-53E has been involved in about half as many mishaps for comparable hours flown," Rothfork said.

Still, Badham on Tuesday informed House Armed Services Committee Chairman Les Aspin (D-Wis.) by letter that he is seeking a full inquiry on the CH-53E.

"I believe that an investigation is appropriate and necessary as the safety of the CH-53 aircraft has come under question" Badham wrote.

"In order to assure the safety of the surrounding community, and to ensure the safety of the air crew who fly the CH-53E aircraft, we must seek out and make known all of the facts related to the CH-53 mishaps which have occurred," he said. "Only in this way will we be able to reinstill confidence in the local community and among the Marine air crew that the CH-53E is a safe aircraft which poses no hazard to their safety during normal operations."

In response to inquiries from Badham in March, the Marine Corps said that it has fixed two of the most serious problems that have plagued the Super Stallion, replacing the viscous damper bearings which support the drive shaft near the tail rotor with harder rubber dampers and strengthening the coupling on the tail rotor drive shaft.

Locknuts Replaced

All of the modifications were completed by September of 1985. In addition, the Navy Department replaced several locknuts on the main rotors of the helicopters that were found to be stripped during recent inspections, Marine Corps officials said.

"It is a fine piece of machinery," one general assured Badham during the March subcommittee hearing. "It is not unlike other airplanes that have had growing pains . . . . We are absolutely pleased with it."

Meanwhile, at Tustin and Twentynine Palms, the CH-53Es that had been temporarily placed on flight restrictions were returned to service Monday afternoon after a series of safety briefings for pilots and crew members, base spokesman Lt. Timothy Hoyle said.

Killed along with Arnette in Friday's crash were the pilot, Capt. Michael D. James, 33, of Santa Ana, a native of Phoenix; the first mechanic, Lance Cpl. Michael A. Weaver, 20, of Tustin, a native of Belle Vernon, Pa., and a passenger, Capt. David R. McHugh, 29, of Yorba Linda, a native of Ansley, Ala. Private memorial services for the crewmen are scheduled today at the Tustin Marine Corps Air Station. Arnette, a native of Silver Spring, Md., lived in Garden Grove. The only survivor, the co-pilot, 1st Lt. Andrew D. McClintock, 24, of Laguna Hills, a native of Alexandria, Va., was reported in stable condition at the Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego.

Times staff writer Bob Secter contributed to this story.

HELICOPTER CRASHES

Nine major crashes involving two types of Marine helicopters--the two-engine Sea Stallion (CH-53A and CH-53D) and three-engine Super Stallion (CH-53E)--since 1984:

March 24, 1984: A CH-53D crashes into mountain in Korea during a night troop operation, killing 29. Probable cause: air crew error, lack of crew coordination, supervisory error.

April 14, 1984: A CH-53A hits the ground during a turning maneuver in Nevada. One killed. Probable cause: air crew error, lack of situational awareness and knowledge.

June 1, 1984: A CH-53E crashes in the water off San Clemente Island, killing four. Aircraft disintegrated in flight while hoisting a truck. Probable causes: material failure and design deficiency of aircraft and truck.

Nov. 19, 1984: A CH-53E hits the ground while attempting to lift a large gun at Camp Lejeune, N.C., killing six. Probable cause: material failure and design deficiency.

Feb. 7, 1985: A CH-53E from Tustin hits the ground while hovering. No deaths. Probable cause: air crew error, lack of crew coordination, induced vertical oscillation.

May 6, 1985: A Ch-53D experiences apparent transmission failure and falls into Sea of Japan, killing 17. Accident under investigation.

July 12, 1985: A CH-53D appeared to have struck a logging cable during tactical formation training at Okinawa, killing four. Accident under investigation.

Aug. 25, 1985: A CH-53E from El Toro displays a fire-warning light and crash-lands in a vacant field in Laguna Hills, killing one man. Accident under investigation.

May 9, 1986: A CH-53E crash-lands at Twentynine Palms, killing four and injuring one. Accident under investigation.

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