Coast Guard releases findings of investigation into fatal 2008 rescue helicopter crash

HONOLULU — The U.S. Coast Guard released the results of its investigation here today into the loss of an HH-65 Dolphin rescue helicopter from Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point approximately five miles south of Honolulu International Airport Sept. 4, 2008.

All four Coast Guard air crewmembers aboard ‘Coast Guard 6505,’ Capt. Thomas Nelson, Lt. Cmdr. Andrew Wischmeier, Petty Officer First Class David Skimin, and Petty Officer First Class Joshua Nichols, perished in the accident.

“I have been privileged to come to know the richness and depth of the lives of these four beloved Guardians, mostly through stories related by their families and fellow airmen,” said Rear Adm. Manson Brown, Commander of the 14th Coast Guard District. “For those closest to this tragedy, the names of the fallen are etched in our hearts forever.”

‘Coast Guard 6505’ was conducting rescue basket hoist training with Motor Life Boat (MLB) 47317 from Coast Guard Station Honolulu when the accident occurred. During the fifth hoist evolution at approximately 8:11 p.m. HST while beginning to recover the basket, the hoist cable went slack due to the motion of the helicopter in a hover and the small boat in the waves, and air crew cable adjustments in response to these motions. The extra slack in the cable formed a loop that snagged on a dewatering standpipe just as the stern of MLB 47317 fell in the trough of a wave causing the cable to part and inducing an unusual attitude recovery (extreme yaw to the left) causing damage to the helicopter’s rotor system and other damage when the rotor blades made contact with the helicopter’s hoist boom assembly.

The aircraft transitioned to forward flight, gained altitude and commenced a slow climb northwest toward the south shore of Oahu, Hawaii. ‘Coast Guard 6505’ climbed to an altitude of about 500 feet and accelerated to about 50 mph while experiencing abnormal vibrations and issuing “Mayday” calls. The aircraft traveled about two miles when it experienced a catastrophic loss of airworthiness and rapidly fell into the Pacific Ocean (Lat 21-13’-37” N, Long 157-57’-34” W) at approximately 8:15 p.m. HST and sank in water about 1,300 feet deep.

“We do very dangerous work, often in harsh environments,” said Brown. “Our training procedures must appropriately challenge our crews to a degree necessary to maximize mission success for actual cases. Mariners rely on us to be there when they encounter the perils of the sea.”

Rescue basket hoist training involves a helicopter lowering a rescue basket to the deck of a Coast Guard boat and then hoisting the basket back to the right side door of the helicopter. This training is essential for pilots and crew to remain current in the processes and techniques required to safely make rescues under more arduous conditions.

The detailed results and recommendations from the investigation are issued to the public through the Commandant’s Final Action Memo on the Administrative Investigation and through the Final Decision Letter on the Mishap Investigation. Both documents are available in the Coast Guard’s FOIA Reading Room at www.uscg.mil/foia/reading-room.asp or can be downloaded here.

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