Navy Helicopter Rotor Struck Carrier Deck, Causing Crash That Killed Five

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An MH-60S Sea Hawk prepares to land on USS Carl Vinson
An MH-60S Sea Hawk prepares to land on the flight deck aboard Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, Sept. 5, 2021 (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Isaiah Williams)

A Navy helicopter’s rotors struck the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier before it plunged into the sea off San Diego last week, killing five crew members, according to the Naval Safety Center.

A center mishap report says the MH-60S Seahawk had just landed when it “experienced side-to-side vibrations” that caused the “main rotor to strike [the] flight deck.” The aircraft then “fell over” the side of the ship.

The Navy and Coast Guard launched an unsuccessful four-day search and rescue effort that ended Saturday when the service declared the sailors dead.

The new details not only shed light on what may have triggered the incident, but may also help to explain how five other sailors aboard the carrier were injured, in addition to the five who were lost. Two of the injured were taken ashore for treatment while the other three "had minimal injuries," the Navy said last week.

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However, the information is likely the last that will be released until the Navy concludes its investigation into the incident. Lt. Sam Boyle, a Navy spokesman, said that he didn’t “want to put the investigation on a timeline” and declined to offer an expected date for a report’s release.

The statistics reported by Naval Safety Center also note that this latest crash is the 11th to occur with the Navy’s manned aircraft this year, and that the number of incidents per 100,000 flight hours has been steadily climbing over the past 3 years.

Last year, the Navy reported only nine severe incidents and five in 2019. When controlled for flight time, the rate of mishaps rose from just under 1 per 100,000 hours of flight in 2019 to 1.45 to date this year.

The squadron that the sailors belonged to, Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 8, has helped point people to fundraising campaigns for the families of the sailors who perished and the commanding officer has said that a memorial service is being planned.

“No word of condolence can truly fill the hole left by the loss of these Sailors and Officers,” Cmdr. Daniel Thomas wrote in a Facebook post on the squadron’s page.

"There is no easy way to process the loss of a family member, just know that you do not walk this path alone,” he added.

-- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at konstantin.toropin@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.

Related: 'Such a Sweet Soul': Tributes Pour in for Sailors Killed in Helicopter Crash Off California Coast

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