Crash Victim had Warned of Flaws in Copters
SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) _ A Marine killed in the fiery crash of a helicopter had said in a tape recording released Tuesday that flight crews were worried about mechanical defects in the aircraft.
Sgt. Dulles Arnette, killed Friday with three other Marines in the desert crash, described manufacturing flaws in a taped interview released by a lawyer who is suing the manufacturer of the CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter.
Mark P. Robinson Jr. represents the families of two of four Marines killed in the crash of another Marine CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter in June 1984.
Arnette, who was upset at the death of a friend in the ocean crash off San Clemente Island, had agreed to testify in a lawsuit against Sikorsky Aircraft, which makes the copter, Robinson said.
″We had problems, there’s no doubt about it,″ says a voice identified as Arnette’s on a tape Robinson said was made shortly after the ocean crash.
Arnette, from Silver Spring, Md., had been with the Heavy Marine Helicopter Squadron 465 at Tustin Marine Corps Helicopter Air Station.
As the crew chief, it had been his job to be the in-flight troubleshooter for the $24 million Super Stallion, which crashed and burned at a training center near Twentynine Palms.
Jim Ventrilio, a spokesman for Sikorsky in Stratford, Conn., said the company would not discuss the matter because it was in litigation.
Since 1984, 16 servicemen have died and 16 have been injured in Super Stallion crashes, a record that led those who worked with the choppers to look closely for problems, Arnette said on the tape.
He said he had found crucial bolts loose when new Super Stallions arrived from Sikorsky, and described finding broken parts on the ground, the loss of which, if undiscovered, could have led to failure of the main rotor in flight.
″Everyone is edgy and everyone is looking at things they didn’t look at before,″ he said. ″And we have come across other things that have been wrong.″
The helicopter wreckage was being examined Tuesday in the desert where it crashed, 120 miles east of Los Angeles, said Marine Lt. Tim Hoyle.
″A mishap investigation can take from six months to a year. If certain components were flung off, it will take time to find out what caused it,″ Hoyle said.
Arnette, a crew chief on the choppers, also said he objected to being ordered to fly missions at sea in newly delivered Super Stallions carrying unfamiliar equipment.
″I was all worked up over that and I told everyone I didn’t like the idea of taking new planes out on the boat,″ he said.
″I am aware of the tape,″ Marine Lt. Col. John Shotwell, a Marine Corps spokesman in Washington said by telephone Tuesday. ″There is no official reaction.″
In the 30-minute tape, 20 minutes of it discussing the helicopter, Arnette also spoke of failures in a component of the tail rotor called the viscous damper.
Marine reports have linked at least two other crashes and several near- misses to problems with the tail rotors. And though reports on the San Clemente crash have not been made public, Rep. Robert Badham, R-Calif., said Marine officials have testified in Congress that tail rotor defects may have been to blame.
The Marine Corps has no plans to ground its fleet of Super Stallions, Hoyle said, adding that Robinson had yet to respond to a request for a transcript of the Arnette tape. ″We can’t make any intelligent response until we have the transcript,″ he said.
But Gene Buhler, an investigator for Robinson, said the Marines may not be furnished with the tape or a transcript.
″I’m not sure they are going to get one,″ Buhler said. ″They haven’t helped us in two years of investigation. They still have not released a report on the cause of the 1984 crash.″
A private memorial service was planned Wednesday for the four Marines at Tustin.