Four Marine officers fired in wake of deadly 2018 collision during in-air refueling
By COREY DICKSTEIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 23, 2019
WASHINGTON — Four Marine officers were fired after investigators determined a pilot’s inexperience conducting nighttime, in-air refueling and a toxic command climate within the unit contributed to the mid-air collision of an F/A-18 fighter and KC-130 air tanker late last year that killed six crewmembers, according to the service.
Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 242 suffered from “inadequate oversight of training and operations” and an “unprofessional command climate” when the Hornet fighter jet crashed Dec. 6 into the rear of the KC-130 Super Hercules while conducting predawn air-to-air refueling over the Pacific Ocean off Japan’s coast, investigators probing the incident determined. The investigation led Maj. Gen. Thomas Weidley, commander of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing in Okinawa, to fire the unit’s commander, its executive officer, its operations officer and its aviation safety officer, the Marine Corps said Monday in a statement.
The Corps announced in April the firing of Lt. Col. James Compton, the commander of the Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni-based fighter squadron, but declined to provide a specific reason for his removal at that time. It had not previously disclosed the removal of the other three officers, who were not named in a statement announcing the investigation’s findings on Monday.
The investigation, completed last month, determined the pilot of the crashed Hornet, Marine Capt. Jahmar Resilard, had not been trained adequately to conduct tricky air-to-air refueling operations at night. However, the lead pilot, whose name was not released, approved Resilard's use of an unusual maneuver after refueling — moving Resilard’s jet to the left side of the KC-130.
“The investigation indicates [Resilard] lost situational awareness, unintentionally crossed over the top of the KC-130J from left to right, and collided with the rear of the tanker,” investigators wrote.
Resilard, 28, was killed in the crash. The others who died aboard the KC-130, also assigned to MCAS Iwakuni, were: Lt. Col. Kevin Herrmann, 38; Maj. James Brophy, 36; Staff Sgt. Maximo Alexander Flores, 27; Cpl. William Ross, 21, and Cpl. Daniel Baker, 21.
Investigators determined both aircraft involved in the incident were in proper flying condition before the crash.
“There is no evidence to suggest that either aircraft experienced any malfunctions prior to the collision,” they wrote.
In their statement, the Marine Corps said the incident shows the service must constantly evaluate the risks its servicemembers take during training, identify unsafe conditions and make certain internal rules are followed.
"[W]e must all learn from these failures and not repeat them,” wrote Lt. Gen. Stacy Clardy, the commander of III Marine Expeditionary Force, who approved the investigation’s findings.
Marine Corps officials said Monday that further investigation into the incident was possible, if directed by Gen. David Berger, the Marine’s commandant. They said the potential remained for criminal charges or other non-judicial punishment to be issued in relation to the crash.