Marine Corps Finds Unprofessional Command Led to Fatal Midair Crash that Killed 6

Two F/A-18D Hornets approach a KC-130J with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 352 during a Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Central Command aerial refueling exercise on Oct. 13, 2016. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Trever Statz)
Two F/A-18D Hornets approach a KC-130J with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 352 during a Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Central Command aerial refueling exercise on Oct. 13, 2016. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Trever Statz)

Inadequate training and an unprofessional command climate contributed to last year's deadly refueling mission that left six Marines dead and four leaders fired from their jobs in the months following.

A Marine F/A-18D Hornet pilot, who was killed in the crash, made an atypical maneuver during the Dec. 6 training mission off the coast of Japan. An investigation into the mishap found the Hornet pilot "was not experienced in conducting nighttime air-to-air refueling operations."

He is believed to have lost situational awareness, unintentionally crossing over the top of the KC-130J Super Hercules from left to right. The Hornet then collided with the rear of the tanker.

Capt. Jahmar Resilard, the Hornet pilot, was assigned to Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 242, based in Iwakuni, Japan. The investigation revealed a host of problems within the command, according to a Marine Corps news release about the report.

Officials said problems included, but were not limited to, inadequate oversight of training and operations by the squadron's leadership and an unprofessional command climate. Those findings led to several reliefs.

The commanding officer, executive officer, operations officer and aviation-safety officer were all removed from their positions.

"The information gathered during the investigation led the Commanding General of 1st Marine Aircraft Wing to lose trust and confidence in the [squadron's] leadership," the release states.

Related: Marine Fighter Squadron CO Relieved After Fatal Refueling Crash

The loss of Resilard and the five Marines aboard the KC-130J who died in the crash -- Lt. Col. Kevin Herrmann, Maj. James Brophy, Staff Sgt. Maximo Flores, Cpl. Daniel Baker and Cpl. William Ross -- are still felt within their squadrons, communities and across the Marine Corps, the release adds.

The Marines in the Super Hercules were assigned to Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152, which is also based at Iwakuni.

"As members of our Marine Corps family, we will continue to celebrate their lives and honor their memory," officials said in the release.

'We Must All Learn from These Failures'

Two F/A-18D Hornets with Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 242 had been tasked with a refueling mission involving a Super Hercules the night of Dec. 6.

The first aircraft flying in the flight lead position completed its refueling and moved to a position on the right side of the KC-130J.

Resilard then completed his refueling mission and requested to move to the left side of the Super Hercules. It's a "non-standard maneuver for air-to-air refueling departure procedures," investigators found, but Resilard's request was approved.

It was at that point he is believed to have lost situational awareness, unintentionally colliding with the back of the tanker.

The accident led to a search-and-rescue mission to find the Marines involved. Navy, Japanese and Australian aircraft joined in the search.

Resilard and his weapons officer were found during the search. Resilard was declared dead and the other Marine was treated at a hospital and was later released.

Related: Remains of US Marine Aviators Killed in Midair Collision off Japan Recovered

Remains from the five other Marines were found during salvage operations between late May and early June.

The Marine Corps has changed some procedures as a result of the investigation. The findings "reconfirm our need to constantly evaluate risks, identify unsafe conditions, and ensure internal controls are being followed," the release states.

When endorsing the investigation's findings, Lt. Gen. H. Stacy Clardy, head of III Marine Expeditionary Force, wrote that "we must all learn from these failures and not repeat them," the release adds.

Marine Commandant Gen. David Berger might also direct a leader to further review the investigation's findings. That person, called a consolidated disposition authority, would take an independent look at the investigation and could order additional actions or further disciplinary action, Marine officials said.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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