- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 6, 2017

DENVER (AP) - Pilot error caused the 2015 crash of an Army Black Hawk helicopter in Colorado that injured four crew members and destroyed the aircraft, according to military documents released Tuesday.

The pilot over-estimated his ability and lost situational awareness, a military term for a wide-ranging perception of conditions, the report said. The investigator ruled out misconduct and negligence.

The report was released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from The Associated Press. The Army had released other information about the crash in March, but not the cause.

The UH-60L helicopter was practicing evading enemy fire during high-altitude flights when it crashed in a forested area at about 9,000 feet (2,760 meters) above sea level in September 2015. The crash site was northwest of Colorado Springs.

Officials said the $7 million helicopter, which was based at Fort Carson, Colorado, was a total loss.

Crew members’ names not released, but the Army said the 35-year-old pilot held the rank of chief warrant officer 2 and suffered a broken leg in the crash.

He had served in Iraq and Afghanistan, with 915 hours of combat flying time and a total of nearly 1,370 hours of helicopter flight time. He received four Air Medals.

The report did not say whether he was disciplined or whether he was still in the Army. Fort Carson officials had no immediate comment.

Another crew member suffered a suspected concussion and broken rib and the other two suffered suspected back injuries.

The report said the pilot tried to throttle up and pull the helicopter out of a descent but could not do so. Other crew members said the helicopter was so low the rotors were hitting trees.

“The last vivid memory I have is watching the main rotor blades hit the trees and hearing them shatter,” a crew member told investigators.

The report was done by a Fort Carson investigator and was dated 2015.

A 2016 report by the Army Combat Readiness Center at Fort Rucker, Alabama, said a separate safety investigation found no mechanical or material problems in the helicopter.

But that report, released three months ago, said the Black Hawk “was not considered airworthy” because of clerical and maintenance errors in the records. Michael J. Negard, a spokesman for the Combat Readiness Center, said that description applied only to administrative procedures and that investigators found no material defects in the aircraft.

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Follow Dan Elliott at http://twitter.com/DanElliottAP. His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/dan%20elliott.

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