NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The pilots of a Black Hawk military helicopter that crashed last March, killing all 11 service members aboard, had disobeyed direct orders by flying into worsening weather, according to an investigation report.
The military said in June the crash was caused when the pilots became disoriented at night off the Florida coast. The training took place as dense fog rolled in from the Gulf of Mexico.
The full report, obtained by The Associated Press late Thursday through a public records request, said the pilots were not authorized to fly in such bad weather and others failed to challenge the overconfidence of the lead pilot.
The report was a joint investigation by the Louisiana National Guard and U.S. Special Operations Command. Details of the report were previously reported by the Irish Times in June.
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The training involved two Black Hawk helicopters from the Louisiana National Guard taking teams of Marine special operations servicemen over water so they could rappel into the sea.
Both crews “disobeyed a direct order … by choosing to fly in lower then (sic) briefed weather minimums.”
The report went on to fault the lead pilot, Chief Warrant Officer George Wayne Griffin Jr., 37, of Hammond, Louisiana, for pushing ahead with the mission even though weather was worsening March 10.
According to the report, the training was supposed to take place only if cloud cover was no lower than 1,000 feet and visibility was 3 miles. Conditions were worse, with cloud cover as low at 200 feet.
Fog began to set in about 40 minutes before the helicopters took off at 8:16 p.m., according to testimony. The same service member told investigators that Griffin dismissed concerns from members on boats where the training was to take place.
Records show that the National Guard felt that Griffin was a top-notch veteran pilot fully capable of doing the training.
“No one spoke up and questioned the wisdom to conduct the mission,” the report said.
Griffin Jr. and Chief Warrant Officer George David Strother both were decorated veteran pilots. Griffin had twice served in Iraq; Strother had served in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo.
The Louisiana National Guard did not return messages seeking comment. The U.S. Special Operations Command declined to comment.
This story has been edited to restore the title and first name of Chief Warrant Officer George David Strother.