The Army’s top officer grounded all of the service’s aircraft Friday night following two deadly crashes in the past month including one on Thursday that claimed three lives.
Gen. James McConville ordered a safety stand-down, directing all aviation units to go over the maintenance of their aircrafts, pilot training and safety precautions. The grounding includes aircraft overseas in Europe and combat zones such as Iraq and Syria, but an officer at the rank of two-star general or above can disregard the stand down in emergencies such as medical evacuations, one Army official told Military.com.
"The safety of our aviators is our top priority, and this stand down is an important step to make certain we are doing everything possible to prevent accidents and protect our personnel,” McConville, who has a background as an aviator, said in a statement. “During this stand down, we will focus on safety and training protocols to ensure our pilots and crews have the knowledge, training and awareness to safely complete their assigned mission.”
The order comes after two AH-64 Apache helicopters crashed into each other near Fort Wainwright, Alaska. Three 11th Airborne Division soldiers died and another was hospitalized. In March, nine soldiers with the 101st Airborne were killed in a crash involving two Black Hawk helicopters in southwestern Kentucky, marking one of the deadliest training accidents in the Army’s history. The specifics behind both those crashes are still being investigated.
In addition to those crashes, two Tennessee National Guard soldiers died in a Black Hawk crash in Alabama in February. In that same month, two soldiers were injured when an Apache helicopter crashed in Alaska.
Friday’s order requires active duty units to complete the safety stand down by May 5, a process that entails briefings by senior officers on safety issues. Army National Guard units have until May 31, a possibly tricky task for units heavily manned with part time soldiers. Aviation units are allowed to resume flights after the stand down.
Senior commanders, including generals are expected to participate in the stand down briefings, one Army official with direct knowledge of the order explained to Military.com.
“We are deeply saddened by those we have lost,” McConville added in his statement. “It is their loss that makes it all the more important we review our safety procedures and training protocols, and ensure we are training and operating at the highest levels of safety and proficiency.”
-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.