Pro­pel­ler blade broke, caus­ing mil­i­tary plane crash, re­port says

The Sun Herald - - News - BY JEFF AMY AND CHEVEL JOHNSON

JACK­SON, MISS.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors say bad main­te­nance prac­tices at a Ge­or­gia air force base missed a de­te­ri­o­rat­ing pro­pel­ler blade that broke off six years later as a U.S. Ma­rine Corps trans­port plane cruised over Mis­sis­sippi at 20,000 feet, caus­ing the KC-130T to break into pieces and plunge into a soy­bean field, killing 15 Marines and a Navy corps­man.

The re­port on the causes of the July 10, 2017, crash, re­leased Wed­nes­day, slams “consistent pro­duc­tion er­rors” at Warner Robins Air Lo­gis­tics Com­plex in Warner Robins, Ge­or­gia, say­ing ev­i­dence from the crashed plane shows em­ploy­ees missed grow­ing cor­ro­sion on the key pro­pel­ler blade dur­ing a 2011 over­haul. The re­port finds work­ers at the base did a poor job of fol­low­ing the Navy’s spe­cific pro­ce­dure for its pro­pel­lers, in part be­cause the vast ma­jor­ity of blades over­hauled at the base fol­lowed dif­fer­ent pro­ce­dures. The re­port in­di­cates the Air Force has now agreed to adopt the Navy’s more de­mand­ing over­haul pro­ce­dures for all pro­pel­lers.

Mil­i­tary of­fi­cials have known of the problems since at least Septem­ber 2017 and some fam­ily mem­bers had pre­vi­ously in­di­cated they knew what had hap­pened, al­though they de­clined to dis­cuss de­tails. In July, just be­fore the an­niver­sary of the crash, Anna Johnson, the widow of crew mem­ber Gun­nery Sgt. Bren­dan Johnson told The As­so­ci­ated Press that “planes don’t just fall out of the sky.

“It was a grave mis­take, it was an ac­ci­dent that was most likely pre­ventable,” Johnson said then.

The re­port lays out 17 rec­om­men­da­tions to pre­vent a re­cur­rence. Brig. Gen. John Ku­binec, com­man­der of the Warner Robins Air Lo­gis­tics Com­plex, told The Tele­graph of Ma­con that the base ex­pects to restart pro­pel­ler over­hauls early next year.

“When we first heard that work done here in 2011 may have con­trib­uted to the mishap, lead­er­ship and the (pro­pel­ler) shop were dev­as­tated,” Ku­binec said. “The first thing we did was take ac­tion to en­sure that pro­cesses were in place that this wouldn’t hap­pen again. That’s what our com­mit­ment has been since we first heard about it.”

The re­port says a cor­ro­sion pit even­tu­ally de­vel­oped into a crack, break­ing off from the pro­pel­ler clos­est to the fuse­lage on the left-hand side of the plane. A num­ber of other pro­pel­ler blades on the four-en­gine air­craft were also found to have cor­ro­sion. The re­port said in­ves­ti­ga­tors found a pro­tec­tive coat­ing had been painted over cor­ro­sion on some blades from the plane, prov­ing that Warner Robins Air Lo­gis­tics Com­plex work­ers “failed to de­tect, re­move and re­pair cor­ro­sion in­fected blades they pur­ported to have over­hauled.”

The re­port said in­spec­tors vis­it­ing the base were dis­mayed to find work­ers re­ly­ing on mem­ory for how they should con­duct pro­pel­ler main­te­nance, even though they had lap­tops with the cor­rect pro­ce­dures at their work sta­tions. They also said tech­ni­cians did a poor job of track­ing pa­per­work that said who a pro­pel­ler be­longed to, which de­ter­mined whether they were sup­posed to use meth­ods for the Air Force, the Navy or P-3 sur­veil­lance planes. Plus, qual­ity in­spec­tions did not cover “the steps re­gard­ing iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and re­moval of cor­ro­sion.”

The Air Force doesn’t know which tech­ni­cians in­spected the blade in 2011, though, be­cause its pre­vi­ous pol­icy was to dis­pose of main­te­nance pa­per­work af­ter two years. Al­though the Navy had the power to au­dit work done by the Air Force in Ge­or­gia, the re­port says there’s no ev­i­dence any au­dit ever oc­curred since the Navy handed off the work to the Air Force in 2009.

The re­port also con­cludes that the Ma­rine Aerial Re­fu­eler Trans­port Squadron 452 at Ste­wart Air Na­tional Guard Base in New­burgh, New York, didn’t do enough to in­spect pro­pel­ler blades or track main­te­nance records. The squadron was sup­posed to per­form an elec­tri­cal cur­rent in­spec­tion on blades any time a plane didn’t fly for more than eight weeks, but did not. How­ever, in­ves­ti­ga­tors said that even if main­te­nance work­ers had con­ducted in­spec­tions they missed, they might not have found the prob­lem.

The blade sliced through the fuse­lage where pas­sen­gers were sit­ting, lodg­ing into the in­te­rior of the right hand side of the skin. The im­pact af­fected the drive shaft of a pro­pel­ler on the right side, caus­ing that pro­pel­ler to break loose, caus­ing it to hit the fuse­lage and then knock part of the sta­bi­lizer off the plane. The plane, then ba­si­cally un­con­trol­lable, broke into pieces, and the area con­tain­ing pas­sen­gers “ex­plo­sively dis­in­te­grated.”

AP

Smoke and flames rise from a mil­i­tary plane that crashed in a farm field in Itta Bena, Miss. on July 10, 2017. A re­port on the causes of the crash, re­leased Wed­nes­day, lays out 17 rec­om­men­da­tions to pre­vent a re­cur­rence.

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