Three women who were married to or engaged to crew members aboard a Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey when it crashed in June 2022 want the plane’s manufacturer to answer questions about its safety record.
And they’d like to talk to Congress about it, too.
The three women — Amber Sax, Avery Rasmuson and Kelsie Hancock — released a video on YouTube through their law firm in which they said they expected the issue behind the 2022 crash to be fixed by now. They’re hoping that Congress will listen to them and begin asking questions to the Osprey manufacturer about the reoccurring mechanical issue.
The five Marines killed in the crash were Amber’s husband Captain John J. Sax, Kelsie’s fiance Capt. Nicholas P. Losapio, Avery’s husband Cpl. Seth D. Rasmuson, Cpl. Nathan E. Carlson and Lance Cpl. Evan A. Strickland.
John Sax was the pilot on the June 8, 2022 flight known as “Swift 11,” which crashed in the southern California desert during a routine training flight. Amber told Task & Purpose this week that the three women made the video before two subsequent Osprey crashes killed 11 more service members, including a Nov. 29 crash of an Air Force Osprey in Japan.
In the 12-minute video, all three women recount their experiences following a series of briefings they recieved from the Marine Corps regarding the Swift 11 crash. Through the Marine’s formal investigation and follow-on questions the family posed to investigators, they learned that Swift 11 due to a transmission issue – a so-called “hard clutch engagement” or HCE — that the aircraft’s manufacturer, Bell Boeing, had been aware of since 2010.
Marine Corps investigators initially confirmed news that family members were glad to hear: there had been no human error in the Swift 11 crash. Instead, “an unanticipated, unrecoverable, and catastrophic mechanical failure occurred.” However the three said it wasn’t until August of this year, after asking additional questions, that they found out about the military’s unsuccessful efforts to fix the HCE problem over the years.
The three women say they still have not received answers on why Bell Boeing was not named in the investigation, and why Bell Boeing has not resolved the hard clutch engagement problem at a production level. They also said that no representative from Bell Boeing was present to answer questions at the briefing.
“I’ve read [the investigation] cover to cover several times and there’s not one thing in there that says anything about Bell Boeing,” Rasmuson says in the video. “I’d like to know from an investigator’s point of view where Bell Boeing has a role in this. We know what happened, we know how it happened, we don’t know why. The why is what we were there for.”
Ongoing mechanical issues
In the wake of a series of aerial mishaps in 2022, Air Force Special Operations Command grounded its CV-22s for two weeks. A workaround was found — in part requiring pilots to take a short pause before increasing power in the Osprey — and they were cleared for operations. However AFSOC and the Navy, which oversees Marine Corps aviation, shut down Osprey flights again for a brief period in early 2023 due to the ongoing hard clutch engagement issue. Alongside deadly crashes, the reoccurring problem has caused over a dozen non-fatal mishaps during flight.
A hard clutch engagement issue forced one AFSOC Osprey to make an emergency landing on a Norwegian nature preserve in 2022. Though there were no injuries, bad weather and its remote locations delayed recovery of the aircraft for over a month.
Although Bell Boeing and the military knew of HCE issues with Osprey as far back as 2010, engineers have been unable to design a fix or fundamentally diagnosis the mechanical flaws behind the malfunction.
One redesign was developed but scrapped in 2020 after it failed flight testing. Why, the Sax and the other women ask, was there no follow-on or second effort made?
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“I’m not sure what happened,” Sax said. “Here we were in 2022, and the very thing they were aware of as a possible problem with this aircraft caused the death of five Marines.”
Since the video was recorded, there have been additional Osprey crashes. The video comes just 10 days after an Air Force Special Operations Command Osprey crashed in Japan, killing eight crew onboard. In August, another Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey crashed in Australia, killing three Marines and injuring 20 more onboard.
The exact cause of both of those crashes is unknown, although the Air Force said this week that a “material failure” was involved in the Japan crash, a turn of phrase that may indicate that initial investigation is focusing on a mechanical issue rather than pilot error
Both the Air Force and the Marine Corps grounded their respective Osprey fleets this week.
The Marine Corps flies roughly 300 Ospreys, the Air Force about 50. The Navy flies a handful of the planes to ferry crew and supplies including mail to and from ships at seas.
Now the women hope they can get Congress to look into the matter. Hancock said in the video that the military and Bell Boeing knew about the issue but have not fixed it and that runs the risk of more deadly crashes happening again in the future. Both the military and the manufacturer need to revisit the issue, she said.
“Being able to really talk to Congress about how our friends and family are still flying these aircraft and there are unresolved issues that we know, being a part of the military community, and the perception that there are things that have fallen through the cracks,” she said.
Update, 12/9/23: This story was updated with additional information on Osprey crashes in 2023.
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