Saturday, December 23, 2000

Downed Osprey had
hydraulic malfunction

By Sandra Jontz
Washington bureau

WASHINGTON — The MV-22 Osprey that crashed in North Carolina this month killing four experienced a hydraulic malfunction, according to preliminary investigation results released Thursday by the U.S. Marine Corps.

Investigators analyzed data collected from the crash survivable memory unit, similar to what is commonly called the "black box," and discovered the malfunction.

However, the "magnitude of the hydraulic malfunction or whether it relates to the mishap is not yet known," according to a press release from the Corps’ headquarters at the Pentagon.

Four Marines were killed Dec. 11 when the tilt-rotor aircraft crashed during night exercises at New River Air Station near Jacksonville, N.C.

Killed were Lt. Col. Keith Sweaney, 42, who had been the director of the Multi-Service Operational Test Team and was scheduled to become commander of the first Osprey squadron next year; Maj. Michael Murphy, 38; Sgt. Jason Buyck, 24; and Staff Sgt. Avely Runnels, 25.

Defense Secretary William Cohen has assembled a four-person independent panel to review the aircraft and the $44 billion Osprey program, which has been halted and all aircraft have been indefinitely grounded pending completion of the investigation.

The Corps had been near finalizing a plan for full-scale production of the hybrid aircraft, which combines vertical flight like a helicopter and horizontal motion like an airplane.

Investigators have moved aircraft components to a hangar and are reassembling it for further examination.

An exact cause is still being probed, but investigators do know that Sweaney, the commander, made a distress call shortly before the Osprey crashed, and audio and radar tapes from air traffic control also are being analyzed.

The probe could continue for weeks; however, investigators have ruled out other possible causes to the crash, such as a lack of fuel, fuel contamination, in-flight fire, spatial disorientation and electrical malfunction.

The recent fatal crash was the second this year. In April, 19 Marines died when an Osprey crashed in Arizona, prompting the grounding of the aircraft. The crash was blamed on human error.

The Corps is expected to replace its Vietnam-era CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters with the Osprey, which is bigger and faster.