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An HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter flies over northern Italy, during a routine training mission Jan. 26, 2018. In March, a Pave Hawk crashed in western Iraq, killing the seven servicemembers on board.

An HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter flies over northern Italy, during a routine training mission Jan. 26, 2018. In March, a Pave Hawk crashed in western Iraq, killing the seven servicemembers on board. (Cory W. Bush/U.S. Air Force)

WASHINGTON — An experienced pilot misinterpreted navigation displays on the Air Force HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter he was flying over western Iraq before it struck a cable and crashed, killing all seven servicemembers aboard, an investigation into the March crash found.

The pilot overshot the targeted landing zone, flying the helicopter into an unplanned location near the city of Qaim where it struck the nearly half-inch thick galvanized steel cable strung between a pair of 341-foot tall towers, rendering the helicopter unflyable, according to an investigation into the March 15 crash released Monday by the Air Force. The wreck of the search and rescue helicopter marked the single deadliest event for American troops in Iraq or Syria since the United States launched its fight against the Islamic State in June 2014.

Killed in the incident were four members of the flight crew and three pararescuemen, according to the Air Force.

The Pave Hawk that crashed was the lead element of a pair of helicopters moving to a landing zone to preposition to support a forthcoming ground operation nearby in case search and rescue operations were needed, according to the Air Combat Command investigation report.

Investigators blamed poor flight planning and unusual low-light conditions that made the steel cable impossible for the flight crew to see through their night-vision goggles.

But the primary issue was the pilot’s apparent misreading of the navigation display in which he turned at the intended landing point and continued flying north, the investigation found. The misinterpretation of the display was likely at least partially to blame on unnecessary GPS checkpoints appearing along the route beyond the intended landing zone, due to poor flight planning, the report said.

“Had the route terminated at the intended [helicopter landing zone], it is unlikely the [helicopter] would have flown past the [helicopter landing zone],” the report stated. The pilot and copilot flying the Pave Hawk were experienced helicopter pilots, according to the report. The pilot was a qualified instructor pilot with more than 1,000 total flight hours including more than 800 in the Pave Hawk. The copilot had totaled almost 2,500 flight hours, including more than 500 in the Pave Hawk.

The airmen killed in the crash were identified by the Pentagon as Capt. Mark K. Weber, 29, of Colorado Springs, Colorado; Capt. Andreas B. O’Keeffe, 37, of Center Moriches, New York; Capt. Christopher T. Zanetis, 37, of Long Island City, New York; Master Sgt. Christopher J. Raguso, 39, of Commack, New York; Staff Sgt. Dashan J. Briggs, 30, of Port Jefferson Station, New York; Master Sgt. William R. Posch, 36, of Indialantic, Florida; and, Staff Sgt. Carl P. Enis, 31, of Tallahassee, Florida.

Weber was assigned to the 38th Rescue Squadron at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia; Posch and Enis were assigned to the 308th Rescue Squadron, Air Force Reserve, at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, according to the official statement. The four others killed in the incident were members of the 106 th Rescue Wing of the New York Air National Guard. Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

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Corey Dickstein covers the military in the U.S. southeast. He joined the Stars and Stripes staff in 2015 and covered the Pentagon for more than five years. He previously covered the military for the Savannah Morning News in Georgia. Dickstein holds a journalism degree from Georgia College & State University and has been recognized with several national and regional awards for his reporting and photography. He is based in Atlanta.
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