- The Washington Times - Monday, April 10, 2000

MARANA, Ariz. A Marine Corps aircraft attempting to land during a nighttime training mission crashed and burst into flames, killing all 19 aboard and adding to a checkered history for a new breed of hybrid plane that can take off and land like a helicopter.
The MV-22 tiltrotor Osprey, which looks like a turboprop, is part of a new generation of aircraft scheduled to eventually replace all of the Marines' primary troop-transport helicopters. The military began flying the aircraft six months ago.
A Pentagon spokesman said the names of the Marines killed in Saturday night's crash 15 passengers and four crew members would not be released until their families were notified, which could take until today.
The four crew members were from a task force based in Quantico, Va., and the 15 passengers were from 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines based at Camp Pendleton, Calif., according to the Pentagon.
Yesterday, investigators were reviewing the crash site at Marana Northwest Regional Airport west of Tucson. Few details were released.
Carol Ward, who lives about five miles from the airport, said she watched the plane fly by from her porch. It disappeared behind a mountain and a few seconds later, "I saw the smoke and this big old poof," she said.
The dust from the crash "just eliminated the sky," she said.
A heap of twisted, charred metal was visible at the scene and aerial footage showed a large blackened patch on the airport grounds.
Military officials said the downed aircraft had been attempting to land at the airport when it crashed. It was one of two Ospreys simulating the evacuation of civilians.
Firefighters said witnesses reported seeing the plane head straight down and become engulfed in flames after it crashed.
"Our sympathies go out to the families of these Marines," said Marine Lt. Mark Carter, a spokesman for the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, where the flight originated.
President Clinton called the units' commanding officers and asked them to "pass condolences to the families and tell them of the importance of their service," White House press secretary Joe Lockhart said.
The crash is again raising questions about the safety of the aircraft that has been over a decade in the making.
Former President George Bush's administration tried to scuttle the project after early safety concerns, but builders say modifications from the original design make today's Ospreys lighter and safer.
The Marine Corps lists two other Osprey crashes, both early in the aircraft's development: One, in 1991 in Delaware, was blamed on gyro wiring problems; and the other, in 1992 in Virginia, killed all seven persons on board after an engine caught fire.
Jointly produced by Bell Helicopter Textron of Fort Worth, Texas, and Boeing Co., in Ridley Park, Pa., the Osprey can achieve speeds of more than 400 mph and an altitude of 25,000 feet. It is designed to carry up to 24 troops or external loads of 15,000 pounds.
The hybrid aircraft flies at twice the speed, has twice the range and carries twice the payload of the Vietnam-era CH-46 helicopters it is expected to replace. The Marines have ordered 360 Ospreys to be delivered by 2014 at a cost of $44 million each, said Capt. Rob Winchester, a Pentagon spokesman.
The Marines had only five Ospreys in use: four out of Yuma, including the one that crashed, and one based at the Marine Corps Air Station, New River, N.C.
Boeing spokeswoman Susan Bradley said a Boeing-Bell team was requested and was at the crash site to assist the military.
Military planners see the aircraft as a means of getting more U.S. troops and pilots safely out of danger zones and enhancing drug interdiction, humanitarian and civilian rescue capabilities.
"It's met or exceeded all of the requirements that we've needed," Capt. Winchester said.

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