Helicopters flew too low in incident over Italian beach
Army helicopters involved in an incident in Italy more than 14 months ago were flying too low and failed to obey requirements for navigating across the country, U.S. Army Europe officials announced Friday.
“They weren’t following the flight regulations for Italy,” said Lt. Col. Jane Crichton, a USAREUR spokeswoman. “That’s the bottom line.”
USAREUR officials acknowledge a report into the incident — which took place Aug. 14, 2002, in the coastal city of Barletta — was completed more than eight months ago. But it won’t be released until potential civil action by Italian authorities is resolved.
Crichton provided some details on the investigation Friday after a series of requests by Stars and Stripes.
The joint 15-6 investigation included members of the Southern European Task Force (Airborne) and their Italian counterparts. SETAF personnel were tasked to investigate since it happened in Italy, though the personnel involved were 1st Infantry Division soldiers based in Giebelstadt, Germany.
Crichton said the finished report was sent through proper channels to the 1st ID, USAREUR and the U.S. European Command.
“All took appropriate actions based on the recommendations,” she said. She declined to release the names of the American personnel involved in the incident, citing the Privacy Act. She said administrative punishments were issued and included letters of reprimand, suspension from flight duty and the initiation of flight evaluation boards.
The helicopters, heading from their base in Germany, were on their way to a deployment in the Balkans. The crews spent the night of Aug. 13 at Aviano Air Base before continuing their journey south. While flying over a beach in Barletta, the helicopters’ rotor blades stirred up sand and sent beach furniture flying. Six Italians were reportedly treated at a local hospital for minor injuries. The helicopters continued on their journey, later arriving at Camp Able Sentry in Macedonia.
Crichton said the investigation, headed by an Army lieutenant colonel and an Italian counterpart, took 3½ months to complete. After internal reviews, SETAF forwarded the report along in February.
“Our goal was to determine a clear understanding of the facts and a shared common picture of what happened,” Crichton said. “That took time to determine.”
As part of the investigation, a re-creation of the incident was staged at one of the Army’s training areas in Germany.
Crichton said USAREUR has implemented changes because of the incident, requiring that all Army pilots receive instruction on the altitude restrictions in other countries besides Germany during their aviation orientations. Qualified pilots were also required to receive the additional training.
Crichton said she could not provide further details about the investigation’s findings, again citing the potential legal action by Italian authorities. The U.S. has received no claims from the incident from Italian nationals and has made no payments.
Air Force Gen. Charles Wald, the deputy commander for EUCOM, sent a letter expressing regret for the incident to Italian authorities in February.