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In reporting this series, The Times analyzed 87 judge advocate general investigation reports of individual Harrier accidents between 1971 and 2001, most of which were obtained under the federal Freedom of Information Act. The JAG office, a unit of the Navy, which oversees Marine Corps aviation, withheld portions of some reports, citing privacy and national security concerns.
The Times also based its findings on information from the Naval Safety Center's aviation database, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act as well. The database includes voluminous records on Navy and Marine aircraft and crewmen involved in accidents from 1980 through mid-2002.
The Marine Corps provided information on Harrier safety, maintenance and combat records, including a breakdown of Harrier accidents and fatalities.
Comparative statistics about accident rates were provided by the Naval Safety Center and Air Force Safety Center. Harrier cost data came from the Naval Air Systems Command and the Navy Center for Cost Analysis.
The Marines did not provide the identity of pilots killed in crashes. The names and backgrounds of pilots who died in the Harrier were compiled through searches of the Marine Corps Historical Center, National Archives, news clippings and online databases, as well as interviews with other fliers and family members. The Times interviewed at least one relative of each of the 45 Marines killed in Harrier accidents.
The Times also interviewed scores of Harrier pilots, mechanics and commanders, as well as a dozen current and former Marine Corps generals, Pentagon officials and military analysts. Marine Commandant James L. Jones answered questions about the Harrier posed by a Times reporter earlier this year but declined to be interviewed for this series.
Times staff writers Alan C. Miller in Washington and Kevin Sack in Atlanta reported and wrote this series. Director of computer analysis Richard OReilly provided database analysis. Substantial assistance was provided by researchers Janet Lundblad in Los Angeles, Lianne Hart in Houston and Robert Patrick in Washington; Also contributing were Times staff writers Tony Perry in San Diego, and Marjorie Miller and Janet Stobart in London.
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