New Documents Reveal Details Of 2014 Helo Crash And Chaotic Rescue

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U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Mark Hays

Documents obtained by The Washington Post through the Freedom of Information Act reveal the chaos and uncertainty of a Sept. 1, 2014, helicopter crash off the coast of the east African nation of Djibouti, which nearly ended in tragedy. When a CH-53E Super Stallion descended too quickly trying to land aboard the USS Mesa Verde, an amphibious ship, the helicopter’s rotor hit the flight deck, causing the aircraft to violently roll into the water, where it landed upside down.


“When we impacted the water, I was thrown to the right side of the aircraft,” said one Marine to investigators, according to the documents. “There was an initial rush of water and the aircraft continued to roll to the right. I felt somebody fall on top of me and the litter from the left side of the aircraft fell on me as well. I wrestled my way out through the luggage and by the time I got free the aircraft was completely upside down.”

All 25 people in the helicopter survived, rescued by inflatable boats sent from the Mesa Verde, but subsequent investigations have raised concerns about the crash and the fact that luggage and equipment was not properly tied down. The cause of the crash was found to be catastrophic engine failure, but the investigation showed the crew deviated from established policy when it failed to run through and send back a full checklist of safety requirements to the squadron’s maintenance department.

Though two Marines faced flight performance boards to determine whether they were capable of holding similar jobs in the future, no punitive action was taken against any of those involved.

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Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Charles Kettles was awarded the Medal of Honor July 18, 2016, for his actions while serving as a Flight Commander assigned to the 176th Aviation Company (Airmobile) (Light), 14th Combat Aviation Battalion, Americal Division. Then-Maj. Kettles distinguished himself in combat operations near Duc Pho, Republic of Vietnam, on May 15, 1967. (U.S. Army/Spc. Tammy Nooner)

by Martin Slagter, The Ann Arbor News, Mich.

YPSILANTI, MI - When a brigade of U.S. troops was ambushed by the North Vietnamese Army in the Song Tra Cau riverbed on the morning of May 15, 1967, Lt. Charles Kettles volunteered to lead the rescue, and he refused, again and again, to back down when faced with a barrage of gunfire.

His aircraft badly damaged, left spilling fuel, and his gunner was severely injured during the treacherous operation.

But he helicoptered in and out of the battlefield four times, saving the lives of 44 soldiers in a death-defying emergency operation that would become a legendary tale of bravery in the Vietnam War.

Nearly 50 years later, Kettles received the Medal of Honor on July 18, 2016.

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