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Marine Helicopter With Clinton Crashes in Florida

Safety: Craft rolls over and burns at airport during campaign trip. No one is seriously hurt, but incident is second in one day involving presidential support aircraft. Panetta orders a military review.


ORLANDO, Fla. — A Marine Corps helicopter accompanying President Clinton's campaign swing through Florida rolled over and burned at an airport Friday. No one was seriously injured.

But White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta, pointing to a series of "unfortunate accidents" involving military aircraft, directed the Defense Department to "undertake a top to bottom review" of maintenance and training of the department's fleet of presidential and executive aircraft.

The goal, said Panetta, is to "ensure that all necessary steps and safeguards are being taken to provide the safest possible transportation."

Panetta asked Defense Secretary William J. Perry to report on the results of the study within 30 days.

"I know your commitment, like mine, is to provide for the safety and security of the president, vice president, their families, Cabinet secretaries, members of Congress, staff and members of the press, as well as the fine men and women of our armed forces who travel on DOD aircraft," Panetta said in a letter to Perry.

The Boeing CH-46E Sea Knight was taxiing to a fuel truck at Orlando Executive Airport when its rotor blade apparently clipped a light pole, Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said. Five Marines and Boeing employees were aboard.

Crew members came away with a few bumps and bruises.

"I'm told they all escaped under their own power," said White House spokesman Mike McCurry.

The helicopter was destroyed.

"It took only a couple of minutes before you couldn't even recognize it as a helicopter," said Walter Moore, who was supervising a work crew nearby. "In just a few minutes, it looked like a pile of metal with some wheels sticking out of it."

Clinton was being driven to an appearance at Valencia Community College at the time. The helicopter was used to transport reporters traveling with the president.

It was the second incident that day involving presidential support aircraft, and the second accident of such aircraft in less than a month.

On Aug. 17, a military transport plane carrying a communications van used by Clinton crashed into a mountain near Jackson, Wyo. Eight Air Force crew members and a member of the Secret Service were killed.

Also Friday, another Marine CH-46 helicopter traveling with Clinton's entourage made a "precautionary landing" south of Orlando. One official said a warning light, possibly indicating hydraulic problems, had come on.

The destroyed aircraft belonged to a squadron that carries the president, his family and top administration officials. The pilots in the squadron are some of the Marines' most experienced.

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