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.