The Army talked about but never followed through on any plan to install voice and flight data recorders on one of its main war machines, the CH-47D Chinook helicopter — such as the one that was shot down in Afghanistan in 2011, killing all 30 U.S. service members onboard, including 22 members of SEAL Team 6.
The lack of these basic, post-accident investigative tools has stirred consternation among some families of the SEALs and other troops who perished in the crash, which was caused by a Taliban rocket-propelled grenade.
The top officer who investigated the crash called the lack of voice/flight data “critical.”
To some families, the issue became a mystery driven by the military’s own investigative file. It contains the transcript of an interview with an Army officer who led a post-crash salvage mission into the Tangi Valley. He said he was briefed to remove the flight recorder, or black box, but could not gain access to the smoldering cockpit.
To some parents of the fallen, it raised suspicions: If U.S. Central Command could not find the black box, what other gaps exist in the investigation?
Answering a query from The Washington Times, the Army confirmed that the Chinook “D” model — airframes refitted in the 1980s and early ‘90s — never were equipped with voice and flight data recorders.
Some parents ask why the military in Afghanistan would use the conventional D model for special operations missions, as it did Aug. 6, 2011, without installing the best equipment.
“That further shows you how dilapidated that aircraft was that night and I would also say, as a father and American citizen, look at the way the senior leadership is allowing them to operate,” said Billy Vaughn, father of Aaron, a Navy SEAL who died that night.
Mr. Vaughn and his wife, Karen, are among the most outspoken critics of the mission. He wrote a book about the investigation titled “Betrayed.”
“It is a further indictment of the negligence and the reckless way that they are forcing our war fighters to have to try to get a job done,” Mr. Vaughn said. “You know the SEALs: If all they have is a bicycle, they’re going to go.
“I think [senior leadership has] taken full advantage of our special operations, their fearlessness, to give them crappy equipment to work with.”
Voice and flight data recorders are installed in all 61 MH-47 Chinook models, which are especially configured for special operations troops such as SEALs, Army Rangers and Green Berets.
The MHs are flown by specially trained pilots in the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, or “Night Stalkers,” to insert troops into dangerous situations. The CH-47s are flown by conventional pilots.
‘The logistical burden’
The Aug. 6, 2011, downing of the Chinook helicopter — call sign Extortion 17 — marked the worst casualty day in the war and the worst mission loss in the history of Navy special warfare.