One Apache crash blamed on pilot error, other on malfunction
May 13, 1999
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Pentagon sources said Wednesday that two crashes of U.S. Army AH-64 Apache attack helicopters in Albania had different causes: pilot error in one case, mechanical malfunction in the other.
The first crash occurred the night of April 26 about 40 miles northwest of Tirana, Albania, where the crews of 24 Apaches are training to join NATO's attacks on Yugoslavia.
In that accident, the sources said, the pilot tried to land the heavily laden helicopter in air that was too thin.
The helicopter was fully loaded with fuel and weapons when it was attempting to land. Investigators believe it hit a pocket of light air and that caused the aircraft to hit the ground too hard.
The two-man crew was pulled to safety before the helicopter burst into flames.
Pentagon officials said the helicopter probably should have burned more fuel before attempting the landing maneuver.
Unknown mechanical problem
In the second accident, on May 5, Pentagon sources said a mechanical malfunction likely caused the deaths of two Army pilots: Chief Warrant Officer 3 David Gibbs and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Kevin Reichert.
Sources said the Apache they were flying suddenly did a 360-degree roll, indicating something went wrong with its stabilizing mechanism.
The exact nature of the malfunction has not been determined.
Neither of the helicopters hit obstacles and the use of night-vision equipment was not a factor in the crashes, the sources said.
Early reports had indicated the helicopters may have hit trees or power lines, or that their field of vision may have been limited by the use of night-vision goggles.
Apaches may see action soon
U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen said the two crashes will not affect the planned use of the attack helicopters and their crews.
"It's a very tough mission that they're being asked to perform," Cohen said, adding that it "requires great skill and a full training measure before they're actually employed."
Meanwhile, there are hints the Apaches may see action in Yugoslavia soon.
NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said Wednesday that the training of the Apache pilots in Albania is "almost completed," and a Pentagon official told CNN the pilots are "trained and ready."
Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre contributed to this report.
U.S. helicopter crew killed in crash in Albania
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