Army Recommends No One Be Punished In Fatal Shootdown Over North Korea
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Army today recommended no disciplinary action be taken against those whose mistakes it said led to the shootdown of an Army scout helicopter over North Korea last December, in which the co-pilot was killed.
Defense Secretary William Perry, however, said shortly after the Army released its investigation report that he would review it. ``The door is still open″ for administrative penalties to be imposed on some involved, he said.
The Army OH-58A helicopter was shot down by the North Koreans on Dec. 17, 1994, after flying into North Korean airspace from the internationally controlled buffer zone that divides the two Koreas. Chief Warrant Officer David Hilemon, of Clarksville, Tenn., was killed and the pilot, Chief Warrant Officer Bobby Hall, of Brooksville, Fla., was captured and held for two weeks.
Hall returned to duty with his unit in South Korea in January and is still there.
The Army investigation report released today said a combination of factors, ``each seemingly minor in themselves,″ caused the helicopter crew to cross the border. It said Hilemon and Hall had become disoriented in unfamiliar terrain.
The Army said it has made 16 changes and improvements in air operations around the north-south buffer zone as a result of its internal probe. These include installing more modern navigation devices on all aircraft in that area and establishing a better system for warning pilots when they are near the buffer zone.
Despite numerous mistakes by individuals in the aviation battalion to which Hilemon and Hall were assigned, the Army concluded that no one should be punished. In the copy of the investigation report released today, the names of the individuals involved, other than Hilemon and Hall, were blacked out.
Hall and Hilemon were flying with the 4th Battalion of the 501st Aviation Regiment, whose three attack helicopter companies arrived in South Korea in early November 1994 as part of a plan to modernize U.S. forces in Korea. Hall and Hilemon were assigned to Company A.
Among the mistakes cited in the report:
_Hall’s commander assigned him to the mission on Dec. 17 to give Hilemon an orientation flight ``before Hall was ready.″ It was his first flight in that particular sector of the boundary area.
_Hilemon, because he was not qualified in the OH-58A helicopter flown that day, was functioning only as a co-pilot. That meant Hall was ``task overloaded,″ meaning he was responsible for too many things, including flying the helicopter, making necessary radio calls, navigating and giving Hilemon instruction.
_The leaders of Hall’s unit put pressure on the pilots and others in the battalion to meet a ``combat ready″ goal of Dec. 15, 1995. As a result, pilots and crews were sent on OH-58A missions with too little training and orientation.
_Too few of the most recent maps of the area were available to Hall’s unit. Hilemon was accustomed to using a larger scale map than the one they had that day.
_Although a set of Global Positioning System navigation devices was available to Hall’s unit, it was not installed completely on that particular helicopter. Radio communications coverage of the area had ``dead spots and weak areas.″
_Those in charge of Hall’s battalion did not have a system of checks on training, although another battalion in the regiment did. If such a system had been in place it ``would have significantly reduced the likelihood of this type of incident occurring,″ the report said.