Operator errors linked to National Guard helicopter crashes: GAO report

Nearly 300 Army and Air National Guard helicopter crashes from 2012 to 2021 stemmed from pilot error, a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found.

The helicopter crashes over roughly a decade killed 28 National Guard service members, and the GAO said those incidents were “mostly due to human errors.”

“We found that the Army and Air National Guard could improve how they promote safety,” the watchdog group said in a fact sheet. “For example, safety officers have limited time to focus on safety issues—such as leading safety briefings—because they are often responsible for a variety of other duties.”

The 90-page report identifies several issues, including a failure for pilots to meet flying hour goals, which the GAO said is the result of staffing issues.

The GAO also identified incomplete risk management worksheets as a problem with the Army and Air National Guard’s safety processes.

The agency said those should be updated and evaluated more frequently and should include safety information such as accident data.

The GAO outlined a few other recommendations for the National Guard, including improving staffing levels and tracking accidents through a record-keeping system.

The incidents, 45 of which the GAO considered serious and resulted in $500,000 or more in property damage, all occurred during noncombat flights related to training, medical or rescue missions.

The larger share of the crashes were from the Army National Guard, which conducts more flights than the Air National Guard.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) requested the GAO report after two National Guard helicopter crashes occurred within the span of two weeks in 2021.

On Wednesday, Schumer sent a letter to the secretaries of the Air Force and the Army urging them to correct the issues identified in the report.

“It is critical to adopt these measures to ensure adequate measures are taken to mitigate the risks of these flights as much as possible,” Schumer wrote. “The safety of our servicemembers must be of the highest priority.

“Many of these guardsmen engage in operations that involve search and rescue and medically focused missions — doing so in the service of others,” the senator added.

The GAO report comes after a deadly helicopter crash last month killed nine service members in Kentucky.

The Pentagon is still investigating the Kentucky crash, which was not a National Guard mission and involved two U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopters on a training flight.

Tags Chuck Schumer Chuck Schumer Government Accountability Office helicopter crash New York

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