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Gallery: Multiple bird strikes blamed for helicopter crash that left Lakenheath servicemen dead

PUBLISHED: 10:52 09 July 2014 | UPDATED: 13:19 09 July 2014

Recovery preperations after USAF helicopter crash at Cley.
PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Recovery preperations after USAF helicopter crash at Cley. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2014

Four US servicemen from RAF Lakenheath were killed when a flock of geese smashed through the windscreen of their military helicopter and caused it to crash into the north Norfolk coast, officials have said..

Accident investigators, police and service personnel at the crash site of the American military helicopter at Cley next the Sea where a second similar helicopter landed to help.
PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY Accident investigators, police and service personnel at the crash site of the American military helicopter at Cley next the Sea where a second similar helicopter landed to help. PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

A US air force investigation into the fatal crash on January 7 found that at least three geese went through the helicopter’s windscreen, knocking the pilot and co-pilot unconscious.

The rescue aircraft was on a routine to a training exercise near the village of Cley-next-the-Sea when it crashed into salt marshes, killing four servicemen, Capt Christopher Stover, Capt Sean Ruane, Technical Sgt Dale Mathews and Staff Sgt Afton Ponce.

The helicopter, an HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter used by US special forces in rescue missions, had flown from RAF Lakenheath to perform low-flying manoeuvres near a nature reserve popular with birdwatchers.

Releasing the details of the investigation into the report, the US air force said Brig Gen Jon Norman “found clear and convincing evidence that multiple bird strikes caused the mishap by rendering the pilot and co-pilot unconscious and disabling the trim and flight path stabilisation system”.

Afton Ponce Afton Ponce

Investigators said the geese, weighing between six and 12lb (2.7-5.4kg), would have struck the aircraft with 53 times the force of a baseball moving at 100mph.

They also revealed that shards of windscreen and bird remains were found 720 feet away from the location of impact, showing the force of the collision.

The report said that the helicopter was flying 110ft (34 metres) above ground level at a speed of 110 knots (126mph or 202km/h) as it performed the nighttime rescue scenario.

Investigators said it was possible that a flock of geese took flight from Cley marshes in the after being startles by the noise of the low-flying aircraft.

Capt Sean Ruane, left, and Tech Sgt Dale Mathews, two of the American servicemen killed in the Cley helicopter crash. Capt Sean Ruane, left, and Tech Sgt Dale Mathews, two of the American servicemen killed in the Cley helicopter crash.

It was concluded that at least three geese penetrated the windscreen of the helicopter, rendering unconscious the pilot, co-pilot and the aerial gunner, who were all wearing night vision goggles.

With three of the four crew members unconscious, another goose struck the nose of the helicopter causing an outage in its trim and flight path stabilisation system.

The report said that three seconds after being struck by geese, the aircraft’s cyclic stick, which controls its pitch and roll, lost control and caused the helicopter to ditch left and slam into the ground.

All four crew members were killed and the helicopter was destroyed on impact, the US air force said, costing the US government an estimated $40.3m (£23.5m).

Richard Kelham, chairman of Cley Parish Council, said the findings confirmed residents’ long-held fears over low-flying helicopters over the marsh and he hopes the matter can be looked at once more.

He said: “These findings strengthen our hand in the argument against low flying over nature reserves.

“Our concerns are for both the welfare of the wildlife but also from a safety point of view.

“It is inherently dangerous to fly low over an area with a lot of birds and hopefully lessons can be learned from this tragedy.”

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