Pilot, high risk blamed in Afghanistan crash that killed Guardsman
By William Cole | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Published: January 23, 2014
An investigation into the fatal crash of a military plane that killed a Kailua, Hawaii, man last April in Afghanistan points to pilot inexperience and an accepted greater risk in flying the high-demand surveillance aircraft.
The report comes as the family of another Kailua man — killed in Afghanistan in a similar aircraft — prepares for the return of his body today.
Funeral arrangements are still pending for Sgt. Drew M. Scobie, 25, a Hawaii Army National Guardsman who was killed along with a Wyoming soldier and a civilian when their twin-engine propeller plane went down in Afghanistan's Parwan province on Jan. 10, said Hawaii Guard spokesman Lt. Col. Chuck Anthony.
The body of Scobie, the married father of a 4-year-old son with another child on the way, is expected to return to Hawaii today from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Anthony said.
Officials identified Scobie's plane as a MC-12W Liberty, a militarized version of the Beechcraft King Air.
In Afghanistan, Scobie was an aerial sensor operator with the Army's Task Force ODIN (observe, detect, identify and neutralize).
Another Kailua man was killed in Afghanistan in the crash of an MC-12W Liberty last spring.
Air Force Capt. Reid K. Nishizuka, 30, was the mission pilot in the April 27 crash about 126 miles northeast of Kandahar Airfield while on an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission. Three other crew members also were killed.
The Air Force initiated an aircraft accident investigation board, and Brig. Gen. Donald Bacon, board president, said in a report that the cause of the April crash, "supported by clear and convincing evidence," was a stall due to insufficient airspeed while in a climbing left turn that developed into a left spin followed by a high-speed spiral.
The crew of the aircraft, whose call sign was "Independence 08," "were outstanding combat veterans, with impeccable reputations," Bacon said.
The four crew had a combined 8,824 flying hours, 4,845 combat hours, and 836 combat sorties.
"The two pilots, however, had most of their hours in other weapon systems," Bacon said.
The investigation said Nishizuka was on his first mission in Afghanistan, his first flight in 26 days, and his first MC-12W flight in 45 days.
The Kailua High School graduate, who was assigned to Beale Air Force Base, Calif., was an "experienced" instructor pilot in much larger EC-130H electronic warfare aircraft.
The other pilot, Capt. Brandon L. Cyr out of Scott Air Force Base, Ill., who was designated as the mission commander, was a KC-135 refueling tanker pilot.
In the crash investigation, Bacon referred to Cyr as the "Mishap Mission Commander" and Nishizuka as the "Mishap Pilot," rather than by their names.
"Inexperience would have made (Nishizuka) less familiar with the MC-12W, affecting his visual scan and instrument crosscheck proficiency, and making him more susceptible to task saturation while tracking his first target on his first mission," Bacon said.
Bacon also addressed an increased level of "program risk" with the MC-12W missions, which he said were started in 2008 to field immediate intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability in Iraq and Afghanistan, and went from contract to first combat sortie in eight months.
"This urgency led to several aspects of the program not being normalized, which created increased risk, particularly aircrew inexperience and lack of instructors in the combat zone," he said.
Additionally, numerous crews, known as "flow-throughs," are loaned to the program from other weapons systems for nine months and then are returned to their primary airframe, "creating continuous inexperience in the program," Bacon wrote.
"Increased risk in fielding the MC-12 has been accepted because of the MC-12W's substantial combat capability and urgent requirement," Bacon said.
Four previous MC-12W near stalls resulted in significant, near catastrophic altitude loss, according to the investigation.
The Air Force said the MC-12W acquisition was the fastest since the P-51 Mustang in World War II, and the aircraft is the most requested Air Force asset in the Middle East.
In 2012, the MC-12 flew more than 20,016 combat sorties and was partly responsible for the kill or capture of 710 high-value targets, including senior Taliban leaders and bomb makers, the Air Force said.
Cockpit recordings revealed that Nishizuka, the mission pilot, was in control of the aircraft when it entered the stall, spin and spiral, and that Cyr, the mission commander, took control to attempt recovery, according to the investigation.
The aircraft took off from Kandahar Airfield just before noon, flew at 20,000 feet, identified a target, and started a climb to get clear of weather, but lost airspeed, which led to the stall, the investigation said.
Background noise indicated items flying around the cabin, and the aircraft's rapid acceleration pointed to an "extreme nose-down attitude" before the crash in a valley.
A ground team and helicopter arrived within two hours, and two hours after that, the ground team reported, "Four heroes recovered."