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Dead Pilot’s Reputation Probed

March 28, 1998

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) _ The lead pilot of a helicopter that crashed at Fort Bragg last year, killing eight soldiers, liked to fly low and had made risky maneuvers on previous missions, two Army pilots said.

The pilots described Michael D. Pannell’s flying history to investigators looking into the July crash.

A third pilot, though, said Pannell, 28, and his co-pilot, Brad J. Ronan, 26, also a Chief Warrant Officer, had sound reputations.

The Army hasn’t been able to determine which man was flying the helicopter when it crashed. The July 8 accident has been blamed on pilot error.

The Associated Press obtained the accident report, prepared by the U.S. Army Safety Center at Fort Rucker, Ala., through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Capt. Craig D. Morrow told investigators that on a flight last May, Pannell hit a 60-foot pine tree on a sharp turn, damaging the helicopter’s rotor blade.

Morrow told investigators Pannell’s actions on that flight had made Morrow ``uncomfortable,″ Maj. Herbert L. Burgess, the lead investigator, said.

The crew was ordered to take toxicology tests after the damage was discovered. Test results were not included in the report.

The findings and recommendations of investigators were blacked out on copies released by the safety center.

Capt. Michael S. Jackson also told investigators ``that on at least one occasion, he had observed CW2 Pannell flying `lower than normal’ and `close’ to obstacles.″

But Chief Warrant Officer Christina L. Brunner, also a pilot, told investigators Pannell and Ronan had ``good, sound reputations″ as fliers.

A state Forestry Service pilot who saw the helicopter moments before the July crash told investigators the Black Hawk was about 200 feet above the trees and banked normally into its turn.

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