Text of Rear Adm. Manson K. Brown’s remarks on release of ‘Coast Guard 6505’ investigation

Following are the remarks of RADM Manson K. Brown on the release of the Final Action Memo and Final Decision Letter pertaining to the investigations into the mishap involving the Coast Guard rescue helicopter CG-6505 .  The remarks were delivered today at Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point, Hawaii.

Good morning and thank you for joining us here at Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point. This morning, the U.S. Coast Guard will officially release its findings of two separate investigations concerning the loss of Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point Helicopter CG 6505.  As a result of the crash of this HH-65 Dolphin rescue helicopter into the Pacific Ocean approximately 5 nautical miles south-southwest of Honolulu International Airport on Sept. 4, 2008, all four crewmembers were killed.

Today, as a follow on to a commitment I made to you in the early hours of this tragedy, I am here to address the results of these comprehensive administrative and safety investigations.  The purpose of my remarks is to make public these findings – so that we may share as much information as we can with the community we are entrusted to protect.

As I speak, the Commandant of the Coast Guard is notifying the entire Coast Guard of the results of these investigations. All Coast Guard personnel assigned across the nation and around the world will have access to read the results of these investigations … and online links will be provided to you at the conclusion of my remarks.  The Coast Guard public affairs team here in Honolulu will be available the rest of the day to answer any follow-on questions you may have.

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We in the 14th Coast Guard District have constantly thought about our lost airmen of Coast Guard 6505 since the outset of this tragedy. As the District Commander, it is my duty to ensure the lessons learned from the tragedy and the subsequent investigations are shared in a timely manner.  Please know the Coast Guard took time to conduct thorough investigations to identify the causes of this accident and to identify the actions required to mitigate the potential for a repeat accident of this nature in the future.

There were two investigations completed– the results of the administrative investigation are reported in a Final Action Memo signed by our Commandant of the Coast Guard, ADM Thad Allen.  The results of the safety investigation are reported in a Final Decision Letter signed by our Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard, VADM David Pekoske.

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Rescue basket hoist training involves a helicopter lowering a rescue basket to the deck of a Coast Guard vessel and then hoisting the basket back to the right side door of the helicopter. The basket is connected to a stainless steel cable – approximately a quarter of an inch thick – that is deployed from a hoist boom assembly above that right side door. This training is essential for pilots and crews to remain current in the processes and techniques required to safely make rescues under more arduous conditions.

The findings of these investigations show that the crew of Coast Guard 6505 was in the recovery phase of the fifth training hoist of the evening when the mishap occurred at 8:11 p.m. As the helicopter maneuvered overhead in a hover, it descended slightly as the motor lifeboat rose on a swell. This motion created excess slack in the hoist cable and the cable tangled on the stern of the vessel. As the motor lifeboat rode down the swell and the helicopter maneuvered to gain altitude, the cable became taut, physically pulled the helicopter down to the right and then the cable parted – or snapped – under tension.

The parting of the cable induced an unusual attitude in the helicopter – rapid right to left roll with extreme yaw to the left. This extreme attitude caused the rotor blades to contact the helicopter’s hoist boom assembly. This contact disrupted the normally fine-tuned motion of the rotating helicopter blades and created a significant out of balance condition resulting in severe vibrations that existed for the remainder of the flight.

Despite these severe vibrations, the aircrew successfully transitioned to forward flight, gained altitude and commenced a slow climb northwest toward the South Shore of Oahu. They were able to climb to 500 feet and accelerate to about 50 miles per hour … but, 3 minutes and 15 seconds later, the aircraft experienced a catastrophic loss of airworthiness and rapidly fell into the ocean at 8:15 p.m. The investigations found that damage to the airframe caused in the hover was compounded by deterioration of components of the rotor system.  This caused the loss of airworthiness at the time of the crash.

Immediately after the hoist cable parted, the aircrew made several “Mayday” calls which were heard by the motor lifeboat crew, Coast Guard Sector Honolulu’s 24-hour command center in Honolulu Harbor, and Honolulu International Airport’s Air Traffic Control Tower.

The investigations found no misconduct by any personnel on Coast Guard 6505 or Motor Lifeboat 47317 … the crews on both platforms acted with the utmost professionalism under the extreme circumstances.

The Coast Guard is using the findings of the investigation to implement a mitigation strategy to reduce risks associated with hoist operations. This includes: reducing the snag hazards on the deck of the 47-foot motor lifeboats; improving communications between Coast Guard surface vessels and flight crews; conducting a helicopter hoist safety summit; reviewing operational and training hoist procedures; reviewing the training syllabus for pilots; improving the hoist winch assemblies aboard the HH-65 helicopter and updating the emergency procedures for HH-65 aircrews – including increasing aircrews’ exposure during training to situations involving the potential ditching of an aircraft in low altitude situations at sea.

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In conclusion, I would like to thank the people of Hawaii, Hawaii’s elected leaders, and our many partners for the outpouring of Aloha extended the Coast Guard during this tragedy. We are proud to serve this community and it means so much to us as Guardians to know Hawaii’s residents and leadership grieved with us in our loss.

CAPT Tom Nelson, LCDR Andy Wischmeier, AST1 David Skimin and AMT1 Josh Nichols made the ultimate sacrifice while serving our Nation and the Aloha State. The Coast Guard will learn from this loss and do everything it can to prevent this type of tragic accident from happening again.

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Both investigations are available online in the U.S. Coast Guard’s Freedom of Information Act Reading Room website. I will now take any questions …

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One Comment

  1. Lydia says:

    I was an FS3 at Barbers Pt around 2000 while Skimin was a rescue swimmer there. I remember that he liked waffles for breakfast. My husband (who was stationed there as well) & I were devastated by thr tremendous loss of AST1 Skimin and the rest of the crew. Their families’ will continue to be in our prayers.