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Marines Plan Safety Check of Aircraft


WASHINGTON — Alarmed by a series of recent accidents at military installations, including several in California, the Marine Corps has decided to ground nearly all of its airplanes and helicopters for 48 hours next week while it conducts safety inspections and reviews training programs.

The directive announced Thursday follows a series of six separate accidents in the last month in which 12 people were killed and one remains missing. Several of the accidents occurred during training exercises at the Camp Pendleton and Twentynine Palms installations in Southern California.

The "safety stand-down" includes the suspension of flight operations for about 84 F-18 jets, aerial refuelers and cargo planes based at the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, and about 170 helicopters at the Tustin Marine Corps Air Station.

"It is imperative we identify weaknesses and correct them immediately," Gen. Carl E. Mundy, commandant of the Marine Corps, said in a message to corps commanders around the world.

"At a minimum, I want to look at training standards, personal qualifications, maintenance practices and flight leadership training and certification."

All aircraft will be grounded Monday and Tuesday except the HMX-1 helicopter assigned to President Clinton in Washington and the Marine FA-18s based in Aviano, Italy, that are used to support Operation Deny Flight--which enforces the "no-fly zone" over Bosnia.

Lt. Beth Carreiro, a base spokeswoman at El Toro, said the 48-hour inspection drill will allow commanders to check their maintenance and safety procedures including "everything from the mechanics to the mind set. There will be everything from hands-on (inspections) to classroom discussion."

The drill will include the 14,000 Marines assigned to the Third Marine Aircraft Wing headquartered at El Toro, which also includes aircraft based at Tustin, Camp Pendleton and Yuma, Ariz.

The Naval Air Systems Command previously concluded that a Cobra helicopter crash in San Diego on September 8 was caused by erosion of a main rotor blade. Other recent accidents are still under investigation, Carreiro said.

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