A baffling paperwork glitch has deprived investigators ofthe flight incident recorder (FIR) onboard a crashed BellBoeing CV-22 despiteevidence that the critical device survived, according to president of the accidentinvestigation board.
The missing FIR prevented the board from determining thecause of the crash and fuelled a rare public dispute between accidentinvestigators and the head of Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) overopposing theories.
The president of the accident investigation board, recentlyretired Brig Gen Donald Harvel, believes chances are greater than 50% that theCV-22 crashed as a result of dual engine power loss.
AFSOC issued a press release on 16 December dismissingHarvel’s theory as unsupported by a “preponderance of credible evidence”, andthe command’s internal – and unreleased — investigation report already blamedthe crash on pilot error.
The truth about what happened on the night of 9 April in a wadiroughly 5,000ft above sea level near Qalat, Afghanistan,remains a mystery because the rescue crew failed to recover the FIR from theaircraft.
Asked about the puzzling omission, Harvel, currently a DeltaAir Lines Boeing 777 captain, replied in an interview: “That’s kind of a funnystory.”
AFSOC inherited instructional manuals – called “Dash-1s” -for the CV-22 from the Marine Corps’ MV-22B units. It was necessary totranslate the manuals from Marine piloting and maintenance jargon to USAFterminology, but the translators made a few mistakes, Harvel says.
“Somehow in that translation there was nothing in [the AFSOCmanual] that showed this aircraft had a FIR,” he says. “They had absolutely noidea.”
As a result, he adds, the FIR “was never on the list to getthat off the airplane” after a crash.
After recovering the 16 survivors and four bodies, plusother sensitive equipment, from the crash site, the remains of the CV-22 were destroyedby a bomb, the board’s report says. Still, the FIR was designed to survive suchan explosion, so it was possible the device was retrievable.
An army unit arrived at the site one day after the crash andrecovered major pieces of the aircraft still intact, including the left enginenacelle, Harvel says. The army unit also took photos of items that would beretrieved the next day. Among the items photographed, Harvel says, one of theobjects resembled the structure that contains the FIR. However, several of theitems left behind on the first day were missing by the time the army unitreturned, Harvel says.
The absence of the FIR means several theories about the causeof the CV-22 crash are possible, he says.
“I could understand how there could be people looking at thesame evidence and come to different conclusions,” Harvel says.