Army suspends air operations for non-critical aviators until training is completed

Published: Apr. 28, 2023 at 4:24 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - - On Friday, the U.S. Army grounded non-critical aviators for mandated training after recent deadly helicopter crashes in Alaska and Kentucky have killed 12 people in the past month, according to the Associated Press.

“The suspension of air operations is effective immediately, with units grounded until they complete the training,” said Lt. Col. Terence Kelley.

“The safety of our aviators is our top priority, and this stand down is an important step to make certain we are doing everything possible to prevent accidents and protect our personnel,” said Army Chief of Staff James McConville.

McConville added, “During this stand down, we will focus on safety and training protocols to ensure our pilots and crews have the knowledge, training and awareness to safely complete their assigned mission.”

Military investigators were making their way to Interior Alaska on Friday, one day after the midair collision between two helicopters that killed three soldiers and injured a fourth.

The cause of the crash is under investigation by a team from the Army Combat Readiness Center. The investigative team from Fort Novosel, Alabama, is expected to arrive at the scene of the crash near Healy, Alaska, by Saturday, said John Pennell, a spokesperson for the U.S. Army Alaska.

This is the second crash involving military helicopters in Alaska this year. In February two soldiers where injured when an Apache helicopter crashed at the Talkeetna airport. The aircraft was one of four traveling to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage from Fort Wainwright.

In March, nine soldiers were killed when two U.S. Army Black Hawk medical evacuation helicopters crashed during a routine nighttime training exercise about 30 miles (50 kilometers) northeast of Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

While aviation units are grounded, teams will review the risk approval/risk management process, aviation maintenance training program, aircrew training standardization and management, and supervisory responsibility to ensure best practices are being followed. Pre-mission briefing processes will also include more information about risk mitigation, crew selection, flight planning, crew/flight briefings, debriefings and after-action reviews.

Normal operations will resume once the training is completed.