Two Marine Corps helicopters on night maneuvers over a remote desert area in Arizona collided and exploded, killing all 10 servicemen aboard, military authorities reported Wednesday.
Marine Staff Sgt. Tina Foglesong at the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma said the helicopters--a CH-46 Sea Knight and a UH-1 Huey--crashed at 7:45 p.m. Tuesday about 120 miles east of the air station.
Word of the accident was not made public until Wednesday.
It was the second fatal crash of military helicopters this week. Monday night, a Huey helicopter carrying three Army National Guardsmen and five lawmen hit a power line and crashed at the U.S.-Mexico border near Ocotillo in California. All eight aboard were killed.
The National Guard helicopter was part of a joint military and civilian surveillance program to catch drug smugglers.
The aircraft that crashed Tuesday were conducting a nighttime troop “insertion exercise” and the helicopter crews were using night-vision goggles to see in the darkness when the accident occurred.
Maj. Gen. Donald E. P. Miller, commander of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing at El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, said the CH-46 was lifting off the ground when it was clipped by the Huey, which was flying at an altitude of between 100 and 200 feet. Miller, who is responsible for all the aircraft stationed at Yuma, said the pilots and co-pilots of the helicopters were using the goggles when the crash occurred.
Miller, who left the desert training site just before the accident, said the conditions Tuesday evening were ideal for using the night-vision goggles, which amplify available light from the moon and stars to bring out images in the darkness.
It was the fourth major military helicopter crash in less than two years involving night-vision goggles.
Four people were in the Boeing Vertol CH-46 and six were in the Vietnam-era Bell Huey. Those aboard were instructors and students. The CH-46 Sea Knight can carry 25 battle-equipped Marines and the UH-1 can hold 10 Marines.
The Huey was stationed at Camp Pendleton in San Diego County and the CH-46 was from the Marine Corps Air Station at New River, N.C. Two members aboard the Huey were from Camp Pendleton, Miller said.
Marine spokesmen said an investigation team reached the crash site Tuesday night and remained there sifting through the rubble for clues to the cause of the accident. The wreckage was still smoldering Wednesday evening.
Four of those killed were identified as Marine Maj. William C. Walker III, 35, Clinton, Mo.; Capt. Herbert L. Heyl Jr., 33, Ft. Meymouth, Fla.; Capt. Steven T. Andrews, 36, Cincinnati, Ohio; Capt. Timothy J. Kitt, no age or hometown available, an exchange helicopter pilot from the U.S. Air Force.
They were all attached to the Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron-1 in Yuma.
Also killed in the crash were Capt. Kenneth L. Royal, 28, Chattanooga, Tenn; Capt. William Stuber, 34, Chicago; Cpl. Allan J. O’Neil, 20, Ft. Atkinson, Wis.; and Cpl. Henry J. Horvath, 24, Beallsville, Ohio; all were stationed at the Marine Corps Air Station at New River, N.C.
Cpl. Don L. Waid, no age or hometown available, also was listed among the dead. He was from Camp Pendleton. The name of the 10th victim was withheld pending the notification of his family.
Battery-operated night-vision goggles such as those used by the pilots in Tuesday night’s crash have been the source of some controversy. The goggles concentrate available light from the stars, moon and surrounding towns so that images can be seen in the dark. Those images appear light green in color and are two-dimensional, offering limited depth perception. Some fliers have complained about their inability to see wires while wearing the devices. There also have been complaints of mechanical failure, eyepiece fogging and temporary blindness when goggle-wearing pilots shift their vision from the darkness outside to a lighted cockpit instrument panel.
Many of the ANVIS-5 goggles, which were first developed for Army ground crews driving tanks, trucks and Jeeps, are being replaced by the Marines and Army with a newer and more efficient night-vision device. Helicopter pilots began using the goggles about 10 years ago.
Lt. Col. Herbert Blank of the Army’s safety center said 57 soldiers have been killed since 1982 in night-vision-related helicopter accidents. The deaths resulted from 15 accidents.
More than 40 Marines have died in crashes that occurred while the helicopter pilots were using night-vision goggles.
The worst such crash occurred in 1984 in South Korea when 29 Korean and American Marines died when their CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopter slammed into a mountainside. The pilots were wearing night-vision goggles.
The military has ruled that pilot error was the cause of most of the goggle-related accidents.
“In order to survive in a modern-day war we have to be able to fly at night,” Miller said in an interview. “Anyone with a missile on the ground can blow a helicopter out of the sky. The goggles are not perfect but much better than flying with the naked eye at night. They have their limitations.”