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Commanding officer pulled from Marine helicopter squadron before crash

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    At Kaneohe Marine Corps Air Base, Jan. 22 memorial services for 12 marines missing in a helicopter crash on the North Shore of Oahu.


    Lt. Col. Edward Pavelka

The commanding officer of the Kaneohe Bay Marine squadron, which lost 12 aviators two weeks ago in a helicopter accident, was removed from his job three days prior to the tragedy because he had failed to keep the unit operating at acceptable standards, a Kaneohe Bay spokesman today confirmed.

Lt. Col. Edward Pavelka was relieved of command of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 463 Jan. 11 , according to Capt. Timothy Irish, Marine Corps spokesman at Kaneohe Bay.

Pavelka did not commit misconduct, Irish said.

Irish said Brig. Gen. Russell Sanborn, the commanding general of 1st Marine Aircraft Wing in Okinawa, lost confidence in Pavelka’s ability to lead the squadron.

He was replaced by Lt. Col. Eric Purcell, who spoke at a memorial service honoring the fallen aviators last Friday.

Pavelka had assumed command of the helicopter squadron, whose nickname is Pegasus, 11 months ago.

Purcell said he told his squadron after the incident that his philosophy of command was: “Mission first. Marines and families always.”

“Understanding the mission that they were doing is going to be critical to coming to terms with their absence,” he said.“Although the tragedy of this mishap cannot be denied, it wasn’t senseless. It wasn’t pointless.”

“By preparing for war and training under the most difficult circumstances our military and the Marine Corps in particular creates an incredible deterrent to our nation’s foes. As our nation’s force in readiness, we — the Marines — must be ready for war when our nation is least ready for war.”

Two CH-53E Super Stallions were conducting routine night training when they apparently collided just before midnight Jan. 14 and crashed two miles off Haleiwa Beach Park.

All 12 Marine aviators were killed. The Marine Corps has not said if any of the bodies have been found, but debris was located in 325 feet of water. A Navy salvage ship and a team of Navy divers are assisting in a recovery operation.

All the wreckage and debris recovered will be moved to Marine Corps Base Hawaii for analysis as part of the military accident investigation. Because the crash involved military helicopters, the National Transportation Safety Board is not conducting its own investigation.

The Coast Guard found four life rafts, but said none had been occupied.

Six Marines were aboard each aircraft — one instructor pilot was paired with a student pilot, and two instructor crew chiefs were paired with two students. Their training involved the use of night vision goggles and a simulated scenario meant to practice loading and moving troops.

The helicopters that crashed Thursday were not conducting heavy-lift operations, and had no passengers aboard other than the normal six-person crew, Irish, the Kaneohe Bay spokesman said.

The Super Stallion is the military’s largest, heaviest and most powerful helicopter, according to its manufacturer, Sikorsky. The aircraft can carry massive loads, according to the Marine Corps, including a 26,000-pound light armored vehicle, 16 tons of cargo, or a large enough force of combat-loaded Marines to lead an assault.

The crash, the worst military peacetime training fatality in Hawaii, also comes less than a year after a Marine Corps tilt-rotor aircraft crashed during a training exercise at Bellows Air Force Station, killing two Marines. The MV-22 Osprey crashed in May with 21 Marines and a Navy corpsman on board. In 2011, one Kaneohe Marine was killed and three others injured when a CH-53D Sea Stallion chopper crashed on a sandbar in Kaneohe Bay in another training exercise.

The Marine Corps Time reported that aviation-related deaths in the Marine Corps — at least 19 between January and October — had reached a five-year high.

In December, the Army grounded its helicopters after three helicopter crashes in 10 days killed eight aviators to review its procedures.

The Kaneohe Bay squadron recently deployed a detachment to Australia for six months, between April and October, the newspaper said. The squadron’s aircraft also have flown in support of several recent training exercises throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

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    • Usual CYA in the military. It was a preventable and senseless tragedy. the removal of an incompetent commander hinted at that. May God be with the families of all those who suffered this senseless, preventable, needless tragedy.

        • Don’t mind Allie. He’s just stirring the pot as usual. Yes, you read correctly, I did refer to “Allie” as “he”.

        • Allie is correct that the removal of the helicpoter squadron commander for problems with his leadership BEFORE this tragedy is very telling. If these soldiers died because of the failure of power of their helicopters that is completely out of their control however for two perfectly functioning helicopters to crash into each other on a TRAINING exercise where half the crew were inexperienced trainees themsleves should have never occurred. Factor in visibility and weather was bad AND factor in the inexperience of half the crew and automatically the commander should have adjusted the training mission profile for safety.

      • state your military flying experience and all experience with marine operations. since you consider yourself to be an expert on military, and especially marine matters, you should be able to tell us exactly what your expertise is.

        • It would be expensive in this day and age of military budget cuts, but would it be helpful to have an emergency rescue ship on standby near the training exercise for future helicopter training missions? I think being able to pinpoint the exact location of the crash and getting to survivors immediately would be key to saving lives. Wonder if that would have mattered in this tragedy, though, as it’s possible the Marines went down with the helicopters. RIP to all and thank you for your service.

        • ALLU, it’d be literally impossible to have an emergency rescue ship nearby training missions. That’s like having ambulances following traffic globally…just in case. Pinpointing exact location can be done by GPS. From the information offered by the news, it seemed like the choppers collided in midair and dropped like rocks to the ocean floor.

        • Don’t have to have flying experience to understand what the problem is. If the helicpoter had power or other problems and crashed that is BEYOND the control of the pilots and squadron commander. However for two perfectly functioning helcipoters to crash into each other on a TRAINING exercise, knowing weather, visibility was poor AND half the crew were trainees just learining how to use night vision devices and someone in charge has to got to be looking out these soldiers and their safery. Imaging things? Two words, Pat Tillman.

      • allie – Until the accident investigation is over we do not know what happened. Would think you would know better, college educated, and not post pure shibai.

        You also failed to notice how this paper has reported the Navy & Marines actually holding their officers accountable for not doing their jobs, published it, relieved them.

        Meantime city and state bureaucrats/managers, managers of city/state agencies who do the same or worse. Same for Grabby, HART minions, and UH bureaucrats. They get off with a hand slap, a wink, a nod, a promotion, a huge golden parachute. They never, ever admit what we all know. They are utterly incompetent.

  • I think this is another cover up. Why not blame the person that days before this crash was in command. Did he set up this mission? Was he there at the time of accident. No. They were under another commanding officer. The military, just like HPD are all the same. When something happens “who you going to call or blame”. Like the commander stated “incase of a night time emergency or bombing the military is always ready. You wonder, was it worth it for the guys to preform this mission? The person in charge needs to buy a mirror and talk to it. Can that person sleep at nights? In any case, most of the homeless is military personel and look at them from so called “shell shock”. If you go to Costco by Iwilei you see two homeless guys with signs that read – Please help Vet. What does that say!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • I wondered about leadership when I first heard of the accident. Looks like that was a contributing factor – just such a tragic loss of so many young man.

    • Semper fi – this is not the first training or non combat accident and fatality nor will it be the last. An accident is by definition not “avoidable” Allie. Now you are an insurance lawyer too, right?

    • What exactly is meant by ” he had failed to keep the unit operating at acceptable standards”. Speak English. Does this have anything to do with this accident?

      • All military units must meet standards applicable to their mission. For an aviation unit one main standard is the “OR Rate” Operational Readiness of their aircraft. Say it was 80% and the unit had problems meeting the standard. Commander is ultimately held accountable unless the problems are beyond his control.

    • Simple but well said comment! CKMSurf, you are probably one of those well level-headed compassionate people to grace this earth! We are bless to have you in our midst!

  • first condolences to all the families.

    The big question is why are we letting these aircraft’s fly over civilian airspace? Two crashes in one year and one was on land. We need to make sure that all future exercises stay on military bases or the water, I cannot count how many times I have seen copters fly over head in Kaneohe and Waimanalo.

  • Night vision goggles used in flying at night are dangerous and make it difficult for pilots by distorting depth perception.
    Wish they would stop using them. Cannot understand why they cannot develop a better night vision system perhaps
    like a night vision camera type set-up.
    As all were lost in this accident, I guess there will not be a definitive cause of this accident, but I would bet that it had
    something to do with those night vision goggles.

    • Today’s NVGs are light years advanced from their first models back in the 80s. Pilots are fully trained in their use, have to qualify with them. Believe me. If you had to fly at night you want NVGs. Could not fly safely without them

      Flying with them at night lets you see shadows you would never see without them. Same for dim lights, they really stand out.

  • I can’t help but wonder if the Lt. Col. was asked to do the impossible, i.e., in these days of the military being decimated and good troops being given pink slips, perhaps the former boss was asked to do too much with too little? Odds are we’ll never know, but I worry for the future now that most of the top brass have attained their positions under Obama.

  • Way to use a tragedy to throw a man under the bus. Bad enough he’s gotta deal with being relieved of command, but to have the command speak about the circumstances under which he was removed? Bad form.

  • Lt. Col. Edward Pavelka was relieved of command of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 463 because “he failed to keep the unit operating in acceptable standard.” This this is true, why wasn’t mission cancelled until everything was up to the highest standards


    • Because it was a training mission with instructors to do that. Is it time we start answering our own questions? Not that hard. Marines need to be trained when they loose sight of the lead helicopter slow down and lead helicopter doesn’t slow down.

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