It has been a tragic week for aviation in the U.S. military. In only two days, four unrelated aviation “mishaps” claimed the lives of four U.S. Marines and an Air Force pilot, and damaged or destroyed four military aircraft.
On Tuesday, a Marine AV-8B Harrier attack jet crashed during take-off from the Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport. The pilot ejected safely just before the crash. During take-off, the jet’s nose rose too quickly, forcing the pilot to lose control of the jet. The aircraft was taking part in a two-week Alligator Dagger exercise.
The exercise was cancelled following a second crash in Djibouti that day, involving a Marine CH-53E. The CH-53 was damaged during a landing, but the crew members were not injured during the crash. The back-to-back crashes prompted the country to ground all U.S. military aircraft. Both aircraft that crashed in the East African country were assigned to the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, based out of North Carolina.
Also on Tuesday, a CH-53 Super Stallion crashed about 15 miles west of El Centro, California, while practicing desert landings. The aircraft was part of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing based at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California. Four U.S. Marines were killed during the crash, including Capt. Samuel A. Schultz, First Lt. Samuel D. Phillips, Gunnery Sgt. Richard Holley and Lance Cpl. Joseph Conrad.
The following day, an Air Force F-16 Thunderbird crashed over the Nevada Test and Training Range during a routine demonstration training flight. The pilot, Maj. Stephen Del Bagno, was killed. He was flying alone on the training flight. The experienced aviator was part of the 57th Wing at Nellis Air Force Base. The Thunderbirds were scheduled to participate in an expo at the March Air Reserve Base over the weekend, but canceled following Maj. Bagno’s tragic crash.
The cause of each of the crashes is still under investigation.
The crashes come on the heels of two mishaps last month that claimed the lives of two Navy aviators and seven Air Force crew members. The two Navy aviators were killed when their F/A-18F Super Hornet crashed off Florida, while the seven Air Force crew members perished when their Sikorsky HH-60 helicopter went down in western Iraq.
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U.S. Naval Institute (USNI) News