Crew not at fault in 2021 San Diego chopper crash that killed five, Navy says

Crew not at fault in 2021 San Diego chopper crash that killed five, Navy says

The Navy said the pilot and crew of an MH-60S Seahawk were not responsible for their helicopter falling from the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in August 2021 and sinking into the waters off the coast of San Diego.

The crash resulted in the deaths of five crew members of the helicopter, according to a redacted copy of the investigation report released late Tuesday.

The helicopter was under the command of Lt. Bradley Foster, 29, and co-pilot, Lt. Paul Fridley, 28. The incident happened shortly after the helicopter touched down on the flight deck, following more than two hours in the air as the standby search and rescue crew in the event of an emergency involving one of the aircraft aboard the carrier.

A failed damper hose caused severe vibrations in the copter’s main rotor as soon as it touched down on the desk of the carrier. The only survivor aboard among the crew later told investigators he heard loud knocking sounds and was unable to hear anyone on the radio, according to the Navy’s accident report.

“As the aircraft began to shake, flight deck personnel started moving backward and sheltering behind crates, boxes, and the tower. Additionally, multiple people shouted to ‘get down’ and ‘get back,’” the report stated.

The helicopter then began to violently rotate. The head of flight deck operations on the Abraham Lincoln, known as the “Air Boss,” told investigators he saw the helicopter blades break free and fly across the Abraham Lincoln. Several crew members of the carrier were later treated for injuries, Navy officials said.

The stricken helicopter rolled to the left and right, before sliding off the starboard side of the carrier’s flight deck, tail first. 

Also killed aboard the helicopter were Petty Officer James Buriak, a helicopter crewman, and two Navy corpsmen: Petty Officer Sarah Burns and Petty Officer Bailey Tucker.

“Their tragic deaths remind us of the dangerous duties our aircrew perform on a daily basis in the service of our nation,” Vice Admiral Stephen T. Koehler, Commander of the U.S. Third Fleet, said in a statement.

Following the crash, Navy officials said they took “immediate steps” to reduce the risk of another tragedy. They modified equipment aboard the helicopter and found replacements for all damper hoses throughout the Third Fleet, Vice Adm. Koehler said.