USA —A state-of-the-art military helicopter which crashed during a training exercise last year was downed when it collided with a bird, investigators ruled today. The AH-1W Cobra twin engine attack helicopter went down at Southern California’s Camp Pendleton last September in a crash which killed two marines and caused an enormous bush fire which destroyed 120 acres of land. Officials have now ruled that the devastating crash happened when the helicopter collided with a female red-tailed hawk on September 19, causing the Cobra to break into three parts in mid-air.
Accident: The U.S. Marines’ AH-1W Cobra twin-engine attack helicopter, similar to this one, crashed after colliding with a female hawk last year (file picture) The hawk, which weighed around 3lbs and had a wingspan of around 4ft, hit the top of the helicopter, damaging the pitch change link, according to a Marine report released to the San Diego Union Tribune. The subsequent clash caused vibrations in the main rotor, which led to parts of the helicopter breaking away. The Cobra’s tail then fractured and the helicopter fell to the ground in three pieces, the investigation concluded.
Both men on board the helicopter, pilots Capt. Jeffrey Bland, 37, and 1st Ltnt Thomas Heitmann, 27, were likely to have been killed instantly. Investigators found that the collision with the hawk was ‘likely unavoidable’, as swerving to avoid the bird could itself have caused a crash anyway. After colliding with the bird, the pilots from the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing at Camp Pendleton had ‘no chance’ of recovering control of the helicopter, the report found. Capt Bland’s mother, Janet, told the San Diego Union-Tribune after the report’s findings: ‘We were very shocked that something like that could happen. ‘We know it happens to jets, with birds getting into the engines. But we never thought about a bird bringing down a helicopter.’
Emergency: Planes and other helicopters were forced to take to the skies to spray red fire retardant over a 120-acre bush fire caused by the helicopter crash
The burning wreckage of the helicopter also caused a bush fire which swept through 120 acres of land. Planes and other helicopters had to be drafted in to drop tonnes of red-coloured fire retardant over the flames. The crash was one of several last year involving Marine Corps training in California. In August last year, two Marines were ejected from their F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet as it plunged toward the Pacific Ocean.
The crash was one of several last year which took place in or around the Southern Californian military training base at Camp Pendleton
They spent four hours in the dark, chilly ocean before they were rescued. Both suffered broken bones and are undergoing rehabilitation at a San Diego hospital. In July, a decorated Marine from western New York was killed during a training exercise when his UH-1Y helicopter went down in a remote section of Camp Pendleton, north of San Diego. Another Hornet sustained at least $1 million damage when its engine caught fire in March 2011 aboard the USS John C. Stennis during a training exercise about 100 miles off the San Diego coast. Eight sailors, a Marine and two civilians were injured. The Navy has said debris in the engine is the suspected cause of that fire.