Navy, Marine Aviation Takes ‘Safety Pause’ Today After Recent Crashes

In the wake of three recent crashes, two of them fatal, a “safety pause” for all non-deployed Navy and Marine aircraft went into effect today.

“As a result of recent crashes involving U.S. Navy and Marine Corps aircraft, Commander, Naval Air Forces has directed all non-deployed Navy aviation units to conduct a safety pause on June 13 in order to review risk-management practices and conduct training on threat and error-management processes,” the Navy said in a media release posted over the weekend.

“In order to maintain the readiness of our force, we must ensure the safety of our people remains one of our top priorities,” the Navy said. “Deployed units will conduct the safety pause at the earliest possible opportunity.”

The recent spate of Navy and Marine aviation mishaps began June 3, when a Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet crashed near Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake in south-central California. Lt. Richard Bullock of Strike Fighter Squadron 113 (VFA-113) was killed in the incident.

On June 8, an MV-22B Osprey belonging to the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing crashed near Naval Air Facility (NAF) El Centro, killing all five crew onboard. The area, which sits between MCAS Yuma in Arizona and many installations in San Diego, is a well known route for Navy and Marine aircraft.

The aircraft was based at Marine Corps Air Station Camp Pendleton with Marine Aircraft Group 39. The crew members were identified as Cpl. Nathan E. Carlson, 21, of Winnebago, Illinois, a Tiltrotor Crew Chief; Capt. Nicholas P. Losapio, 31, of New Durham, New Hampshire, an MV-22B Pilot; Cpl. Seth D. Rasmuson, 21, of Johnson, Wyoming, a Tiltrotor Crew Chief; Capt. John J. Sax, 33, of Placer, California, an MV-22B Pilot and Lance Cpl. Evan A. Strickland, 19, of Valencia, New Mexico, a Tiltrotor Crew Chief. 

The most recent mishap, on June 9, was non-fatal and involved a Sikorsky MH-60S Seahawk helicopter that crashed near NAF El Centro, California at around 6 p.m. The Navy says that the helicopter’s four crew members were all recovered alive.

The Seahawk is part of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 3 (HSC-3) based out of Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego. A Navy statement notes that “one of the aircrew has suffered non-life-threatening injuries and has been transported to a local hospital.”

Though the Navy has called for a pause, “there has been nothing connecting the crashes, Cmdr. Zach Harrell, a San Diego-based spokesman for the Naval Air Forces, told The New York Times.

“If there’s anything that comes out of the investigation that determines there’s a link, that will be addressed immediately,” he told the newspaper.

Such safety pauses have taken place before, Harrell told the Times, usually after there had been several crashes in a short period of time. 

The last time was in October 2020, Harrell said. The grounding followed two crashes, one of which resulted in two deaths.

So far this year, there have been nine Navy and Marine Corps Class A mishaps – the military term for the most serious crashes that result in property damage of $2.5 million or more, fatalities or permanent total disabilities – Harrell added.

The recent string of crashes follows another one on March 18, when four Marines died in an MV-22B that crashed in Norway. The crew was identified as Capt. Matthew J. Tomkiewicz of Fort Wayne, Indiana; Capt. Ross A. Reynolds of Leominster, Mass.; Gunnery Sgt. James W. Speedy of Cambridge, Ohio; and Cpl. Jacob M. Moore of Catlettsburg, Kentucky. All four were assigned to VMM-261.

The Air Force has also recently experienced its own mishaps, involving three F-16s in separate incidents.

The South Dakota Air National Guard’s 114th Fighter Wing owned both aircraft. The first incident took place on May 11 when an F-16 aircraft assigned to the unit went off the end of Runway 15 at Joe Foss Field in Sioux Falls after returning from what the 114th Fighter Wing’s statement described as being a routine training mission.

The second incident took place about two weeks later on May 31 when an F-16C aircraft assigned to the 114th Fighter Wing experienced what appeared to be a very similar landing mishap.

The Air Force is currently investigating both Air National Guard mishaps with independent Safety Investigation Boards, Rose Riley, an Air Force spokeswoman, told The War Zone last week. 

“No time critical safety issues have surfaced from either mishap, and both investigations are in,” she said. On Monday, Riley said that there were no updates to her previous statements.

On June 6, a Taiwanese F-16 with a U.S. pilot had to make an emergency landing in Hawaii after a reported landing gear problem. The pilot was expected to make a full recovery from unspecified injuries. But it marked the third time in a month that an F-16’s nose gear collapsed during landing. 

When asked if the AIr Force was also looking into whether the Hawaii incident was related, Riley said last week that “critical safety issues and trends may be identified during mishap investigations. The US Air Force is in the process of completing interim safety board actions and coordinating the Safety Investigation Board for the June 6 mishap. There are no obvious/immediate safety concerns, although we haven’t ruled in or out any commonality.”

Unlike with the recent Navy and Marine Corps mishaps, the Air Force – which suffered no fatalities in the recent F-16 incidents – is not calling for a flying pause.

“No time critical safety issues have surfaced to date that would drive immediate actions in response,” said Riley.

Such a safety stand-down “would start with the unit, weapons system and Major Command based on their initial evaluation of the trend,” she said. “Otherwise, the Air Force Safety Center investigates each mishap independently and if there are any time critical safety issues (these involve hardware, software, policy, or procedure that presents immediate harm, where intervention would prevent a reoccurrence of the event that caused damage or injury) identified they will be addressed immediately across those platforms, usually before the identifying Safety Investigation Boards have completed.”

We asked the Navy for more information about what its safety pause entails. We will update this story when we get a response.

The deadly Osprey crash came just hours after the House Armed Services readiness subcommittee added language to the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act requiring the Deputy Defense Secretary to report annually “on the findings and focus of a joint aviation safety council that the Pentagon has still not created,” Defense One reported. 

We’ve reached out to key House Armed Services Committee leaders for more details. We will update this story with any insights they offer.

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