Army’s delay of black box for Chinook too late for 22 SEALs, tormenting families

Lack of ‘critical’ flight data torments families

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Although it is known why Extortion 17 crashed, data recorders could have provided additional information about cockpit conversations.

Army budget documents dating back to the 1990s indicate that the service discussed a long-range improvement plan that included putting recorders on the Chinook D model.

“There’s a lot of guys out there that have brought forth the question, ‘Why don’t all Army aircraft have voice and data recorders?’” said a Pentagon official who has spent a career dealing with Chinook issues.

The official, who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to the media, said the argument for not having them on the D is twofold.

First, in the early days of the war, the Army began plans to put into service a new Chinook — the F model, which has a modern digitized cockpit that contains voice and flight data recorders. Officials questioned the cost of spending more money on the D model, whose cockpit avionics would have to be altered to accommodate a black box.

“The argument is the logistical burden to care and feed for the data and all the maintenance,” said the official. “But let me tell you, at the end of the day that one box, which is not that expensive and not that hard to integrate onto the aircraft, it tells all about what happens inside the cockpit and the health of the aircraft itself when you have a catastrophic event.

“And if you don’t have one of those, you can go years and never understand the reason for a crash or an event. But when you have a voice and data recorder, in days, on most aircraft accidents, you can tell exactly what happened.”

Second, the Army in the early 2000s could not envision a 12-year-long war in which the conventional Chinook and its high-flying capability would be used to augment the MH special operations fleet. By 2011, commanders were surging forces and there were not enough MH models for all commando insertions.

At its heart, the conventional Chinook is a transport helicopter, not the best vehicle to insert troops into a hot landing zone.

A fruitless search

The lead investigator for Extortion 17 expressed dismay that the CH-47D Chinook had no recorders.

“We do need to talk [voice and data recorders], though, because it’s critical. This one didn’t have one,” Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Colt said during an interview session.

Gen. Colt is a former Night Stalker, a unit in which all Chinooks, as well as Black Hawk helicopters, have recorders.

According to transcripts of that interview session, Gen. Colt’s team talked with members of the Army Pathfinder team who arrived at the crash site to retrieve the bodies of 30 Americans and eight Afghans. The team’s other chore: Recover sensitive avionics components.

It was that session that seeded so much suspicion into the minds of some parents.

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