News Branch Navy

Navy hits pause on flight operations after a string of crashes

Units are to review safety practices and focus on reducing risks.
Nicholas Slayton Avatar
F/A-18F Super Hornet
An F/A-18F Super Hornet, attached to the "Fighting Black Lions" of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 213, taxis on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77).

The Navy is temporarily halting flight operations after a spike in mishaps, including fatal crashes. The pause goes into effect Monday, June 13, grounding hundreds of units currently not deployed. 

Vice Adm. Kenneth Whitesell, the head of Naval Air Forces, gave the order, which further instructed units to review their safety procedures and operations. Naval aviation units are to focus on training to reduce errors and risk when in the air. 

“In order to maintain the readiness of our force, we must ensure the safety of our people remains one of our top priorities,” the Navy said in a statement. 

Naval aviation units currently deployed are ordered to begin the pause as soon as they can and participate in the review. The Marine Corps’ aviators are not impacted by this. 

The order comes after a string of aviation incidents in recent months. In the last two weeks there were five mishaps, including a Navy MH-60S Seahawk crashing near El Centro, Calif. on Wednesday, June 8. All five crew members survived and were treated for injuries. Lt. Richard Bullock died in a training incident on June 3 when his F/A-18E Super Hornet crashed not far from Naval Air Station Lemoore, California. The Navy is currently investigating the cause of the crash.

Class A mishaps – which the Pentagon defines as aircraft incidents that prove fatal or result in $1 million in damage to aircraft – are not uncommon in the U.S. military. There was a spate of incidents in recent years, many involving the Navy. Between 2013-2018, according to a Congressional review set up after a spate of incidents, 186 aircraft were destroyed in mishaps and 224 people were killed across the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.

Deaths and mishaps had actually dramatically dropped in the 2019 fiscal year. There were only 43 Class A mishaps and 13 deaths that year, thanks in part to significant declines in incidents with the Navy and Air Force. 

The Navy did not disclose the length of the pause. However, these types of stand downs have proven effective in the past. The Air Force ordered a service-wide pause and safety review in 2018 after several incidents. Air Force leaders attributed that to the massive decline in incidents that followed the next fiscal year–the number of mishaps in the service dropped from 23 to 15 and there were only two deaths, dramatically down from 19 in 2018. 

The Navy’s order comes after several months of bad news. The Navy is also dealing with personnel and morale issues. Desertions are up, double in 2021 what they were in 2020. Meanwhile several Naval commanders have been relieved of duty this past week following unspecified losses of confidence in their leadership.

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