At least three U.S. Navy helicopters were blown over by strong gusts of wind at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia as a thunderstorm passed through the area on Tuesday afternoon. Outward damage to the aircraft can be seen in a number of photographs that have since appeared on social media, but the Navy has yet to provide details about extent of the incident.
According to WAVY, a local NBC affiliate in Virginia, a severe thunderstorm warning for surrounding areas was issued by the National Weather Service at 3:30 p.m., alerting the locals to the potential for 60-mile-per-hour winds. Commander Robert Myers, a spokesperson for Naval Air Force Atlantic (AIRLANT), told the television station that no personnel were injured during the storm, but confirmed that an undisclosed number of helicopters sustained an unspecified level of damage at the base's Chambers Field. In his statement, Myers added that "first responders and military personnel are on the scene to conduct further assessments." The War Zone has also contacted AIRLANT for additional information.
Neither AIRLANT nor Naval Station Norfolk has shared any details surrounding the event on their respective websites or their social media accounts. However, an MH-53E Sea Dragon and MH-60R and S Seahawk variants – all types that are operated by units based at Norfolk – can be seen among the helicopters that were blown over by the turbulent gusts in the images now circulating online. In the various pictures taken of the incident, a broken tail rotor and a bent rotor blade can be seen on at least two of the helicopters.
According to the Naval Air Systems Command, the max gross weight of an MH-53E Sea Dragon is about 69,750 pounds while the MH-60R and S both clock in at around 23,500 pounds. It is unclear what the actual weight of the helicopters at Chambers Field may have been at the time.
When not in use, aircraft can be secured to their respective decks with rope or cable ties, especially in areas where heavy storms have been forecasted, to prevent the asset from being blown over and damaged. In fact, if a helicopter can’t be secured in a hangar, a proper tie-down procedure could allow an aircraft to withstand winds up to approximately 65 miles per hour, depending on the type.
The War Zone will be sure to update this post with more information as it becomes available.
UPDATE: 7/27 5:48 PM EST —
USNI News has reportedly obtained an initial damage assessment from the U.S. Navy that reveals at least 10 Navy helicopters suffered "major damage" during the storm at Norfolk Naval Station, with at least four having been blown over completely.
The initial assessment said that all 10 helicopters had suffered Class A mishaps. The U.S. military defines Class A mishaps as those that result in at least $2.5 million in damage, or at least one fatality, or meet both criteria. However, as already noted, the Navy has said there were no injuries as a result of these storms, so categorizations would have been based on the extent of the damage. It is also worth pointing out that the mishaps can be and are often downgraded in terms of severity after more complete assessments are made.
USNI News also received a statement from Cmdr. Myers who elucidated that there are no impacts to operational forces as a result of this incident.
The outlet went on to detail that the damage assessment explained that "high winds hit Chambers Field at 3:42 p.m. – 12 minutes after the initial warning." This could explain why Norfolk Naval Station personnel did not have the time to tie down the exposed aircraft.
UPDATE: 7/28 11:30 AM EST —
The Navy Times has now reported on the incident after receiving an official statement from AIRLANT who confirmed to the outlet that nine helicopters located at Naval Station Norfolk Chambers Field sustained damage while on deck during the severe storm. AIRLANT also added that “known damages to the aircraft span from broken tail and rotor blades to structural dents and punctures in the airframes.”
Contact the author: Emma@thewarzone.com