Air Force begins investigation of CV-22 Osprey crash at Eglin

By DUSTY RICKETTS | Northwest Florida Daily News | Published: June 15, 2012

HURLBURT FIELD — An Air Force board has begun investigating the CV-22 crash that injured five airmen Wednesday evening, but the Ospreys are expected to resume flying as early as Friday.

The Osprey assigned to the 1st Special Operations Wing crashed during a routine training mission about 6:45 p.m. Wednesday. The aircraft was found upside down and on fire just off Eglin Air Force Base's A-78 gunnery range about seven miles northwest of Hurlburt Field.

"We can't speculate on the cause of the crash," Col. Jim Slife, commander of the 1st Special Operations Wing, said during a press conference Thursday morning. "A board of officials is investigating the accident, and no information regarding the cause of the mishap will be available until after the investigations are complete.

"However, at this time we have no reason to suspect any fundamental design flaws in the CV-22 aircraft, and we don't intend to cease CV-22 operations," Slife added.

The five airmen aboard the Osprey were:

  • Maj. Brian Luce, one of the pilots. He was listed in stable condition Thursday at Eglin Hospital.
  • Capt. Brett Cassidy, the second pilot. He was listed in stable condition at Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola.
  • Staff Sgt. Sean McMahon, flight engineer. He was listed in guarded condition at Sacred Heart.
  • Tech. Sgt. Christopher Dawson, flight engineer. He was listed in stable condition at Eglin.
  • Tech. Sgt. Edilberto Malave, flight engineer. He was listed in stable condition at Sacred Heart.

The 1st SOW decided to stand down CV-22 operations Thursday while the squadron worked to take care of the families of the five airmen. The Ospreys are expected to resume flying today.

A board of Air Force officials started a safety investigation Thursday. Some of the airmen were expected to give statements to investigators.

After that investigation is completed, Slife said the Air Force will conduct an accident investigation to determine the cause of the crash.

"This particular mission was a gunnery training mission, so it was a two-aircraft formation," Slife said. "When the lead aircraft turned around in the gun pattern, they did not see their wingman behind them, so they started a brief search and found that they had crashed right there on the range."

Officials do not know the condition of the aircraft yet. Although it was on fire, Slife said it did not burn to the ground.

"If the aircraft is salvageable, it's going to be significantly damaged," Slife said. "But we don't know if it is now or not."

Air Force Special Operations Command has 25 CV-22 Ospreys in its fleet.

Wednesday's crash happened just two months after a Marine Corps version of the aircraft, an MV-22 Osprey, went down during a training exercise in Morocco. Two Marines were killed and two others were severely injured.

Earlier this month, the military put plans on hold to deploy Marine Ospreys to a city in Japan after local officials objected because of its safety record.

An Air Force Osprey from Hurlburt crashed in Afghanistan in April 2010, killing three service members and a civilian contractor. Two of the dead were airmen from Hurlburt.

Nineteen Marines were killed in 2000 when an Osprey crashed during a training exercise in Arizona. Another MV-22 crashed in North Carolina, killing four Marines, in December of that year.

Ospreys went into service with the Marines and Air Force in 2006. The Marines began using them in Iraq the following year.

During Thursday's press conference, Slife defended the safety of the Osprey and its value to Special Operations.

"That aircraft has speed and range that is unrivaled by any other platform that can land in small areas," Slife said. "It is comparable in speed and range to our C-130 platform, but it has the ability to land on soccer field-sized places. I would take exception to the notion that the V-22 is not designed for Special Operations. It is specially designed for what we needed it to do in that scenario.

"Our main challenge now is that we can't keep up with the demand by the Special Operations ground forces that we support with the V-22," he added.

The Osprey initially was developed for the Marines to replace transport helicopters.

It can carry 24 troops and fly twice as fast as comparable assault helicopters while retaining the ability to hover. Twin engines with large, 38-foot diameter propellers mounted on the wing tips tilt up for taking off and landing.

Each aircraft is priced at about $70 million.

The Air Force version is equipped with a missile defense system, terrain-following radar, a forward-looking infrared sensor and other electronic gear that enable it to avoid detection and defend itself on missions.

The Osprey was nearly canceled several times during its lengthy development because of cost overruns and safety questions.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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