S. Korean Site of Fatal Crash of Tustin-Based Marine Copter Studied

Times Staff Writer

Investigators were combing a crash site in South Korea, trying to determine why a Tustin-based transport helicopter went out of control and crashed during a training exercise, a Marine Corps spokesman said Saturday.

The pilot and three crewmen, who were attached to the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing based in Tustin, died. The copter crashed in a rice field 280 miles southeast of Tokyo while on a joint U.S.-South Korean training mission known as Team Spirit ’89.

According to Marine officials, the large Boeing-Vertol CH-46E has recently enjoyed a good safety record. Since 1985, however, the craft has been involved in a series of accidents that have killed several dozen Marines.

“A crash investigative board was organized almost immediately after the accident, and they have been on (the) scene since that time,” said Marine spokesman Lt. Col. Thomas J. Boyd, based in Hawaii.


No Clues to Cause

“At this point, we don’t have any clues as to what caused the accident. It may be weeks or even months before we find out.”

The craft, after delivering 16 Marines, was lifting off. Witnesses on the ground said that the helicopter began to spin out of control and was aloft only a few seconds before smashing into the field. There was no explosion or fire.

Marine officials identified the helicopter’s dead pilot as Capt. Lawrence L. Beason Jr., 28, of Plano, Tex. Also on board were 1st Lt. Christopher M. O’Connor, 26, of Gaylord, Mich.; Cpl. Michael W. Vinet, 22, of Riverside, and Lance Cpl. Jon D. Edwards, 19, of Poway.


To Be Replaced in 1990s

The CH-46E twin-rotor transport chopper was first manufactured in the mid-1960s. The helicopter is due to be withdrawn from service during the mid-1990s, when it will be replaced by a new, high-tech V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor helicopter, officials said.

“The Sea Knight has had a fairly good record of safety so far this year. (But) there have been some tragic and unfortunate accidents in recent years with the helicopter,” said Maj. Ron Stokes, a Marine Corps spokesman in Washington.

In 1988, the CH-46E was involved in four crashes that killed 17 Marines, officials said.

Stokes said that unless the helicopter--the Marine Corp’s main troop transportation helicopter--is found to have a “consistent” problem, the craft will most likely not be grounded.

“It’s far too premature to comment on that,” Stokes said. “We just need to get to the bottom of what caused this particular craft to go down.”