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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The platoon leader said he had been briefed on where to find the Chinook’s flight data recorder. But at the scene, he could not find it in the smoldering cockpit. That afternoon, a rainstorm flooded the dry streambed where the wreckage sat, washing some parts 300 yards downstream.

The platoon leader told Gen. Colt: “Sir, in this case the first night we went, we looked for the flight recorder, but because the way the fire had burned down, we were told to look for the flight recorder. I think this is actually the only time we hadn’t been successful in recovering that, by the cockpit near the pilot seat on the left hand side and we got as much as we could, but it was still smoldering at that point. And then, after the flood came in, we looked again and we also — we briefed the human remains team and the downed aircraft assessment team, as well as everyone else who was working on the stretchers, to look for the flight recorder in any of the wreckage. But to my knowledge no one — we had a couple, I guess, false alarms — but we could never actually find the actual flight recorder.”

Questions abound

What bothers some family members is why no one on Gen. Colt’s team corrected the platoon leader and told him the Chinook did not have a recorder.

“He said he was instructed to find the black box and knew where to look for the black box when he testified,” Mr. Vaughn said. “In the room with him were military people, a lot of them helicopter people. I found it very odd that no body in the room corrected him and said, ‘Mr. Pathfinder leader, the CH-47Ds don’t have a black box on there.’ I find that very odd.”

Douglas Hamburger, whose son Patrick, an Army National Guardsman, died in the crash, remains skeptical.

“It is extremely hard to believe that a multimillion-dollar aircraft is not fitted with voice and flight data recorders,” Mr. Hamburger said. “If that is the case, why did the official investigation by Gen. Colt’s team mention that the black box was seen on the floor by the pilot’s seat, but it was too hot to enter and retrieve it? Why did they make such a big deal about it being washed away in a flash flood? Why was it mentioned that this was the first time the black box had not been retrieved in a Chinook crash? What is the truth?”

The Pentagon official interviewed by The Times said a possible explanation is that the Pathfinder soldier assumed, or was told, he was salvaging a special operations MH Chinook, which has recorders.

Families say that as far as they know no military official has attempted to find out why the salvage team believed a flight recorder existed.

Garry Reid, deputy assistant secretary of defense for special operations, was asked about the platoon leader’s testimony at a House subcommittee hearing last month.

“Sir, I can’t speak exactly for what the commander thought. I have seen the transcript where he talked about looking for it,” he said.

Mr. Reid said, for that particular mission, there was no difference between the survival capabilities of the CH-47D and the MH-47. The helicopters have no countermeasure to defeat an unguided rocket-propelled grenade, he said.

According to ArmyAirCrews.com, there have been 11 fatal crashes of Chinooks in Afghanistan since the war began in 2001. The UH-60 Black Hawk sustained four fatal crashes, none the result of rocket-propelled grenades.

The Dutch fly CH-47D models. According to a paper presented at an aeronautical symposium in Canada, the Netherlands equipped its D’s with voice and flight data recorders and has begun buying F models to accompany its fleet of 11 CH-47Ds.

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