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Brothers (& Sisters) Killed in Action in USMC Helicopters or while assigned to USMC Helicopter or Tiltrotor Squadrons in TRAINING LOSS - PREPARATION FOR COMBAT


Incident Date 090505 HMLA-267 AH-1W - BuNo 160824 - Mechanical Failure at Night

Conkling, Jessica Sara Capt Pilot HMLA-267 MAG-39/3rdMAW/Miramar 090505
Cox, Aaron David 1stLt Co-Pilot HMLA-267 MAG-39/3rdMAW/Miramar 090505

CONKLING, JESSICA SARA : USMCR : CAPT : 28JUN1981 : 5MAY2009 : CENTRE : PA : Arlington National Cemetery 60-8932

COX, AARON DAVID : USMCR : 1LT : 7DEC1982 : 5MAY2009 : PULASKI : AR : Arlington National Cemetery 60-8932

Marine officials have released the names of two Camp Pendleton-based pilots who died in the crash of an AH-1W Super Cobra helicopter late Tuesday in the Cleveland National Forest.

Captain Jessica Conkling and First Lieutenant Aaron Cox were members of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 267, the Marine Corps said Wednesday afternoon. They had been reassigned to Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 166 in preparation for an upcoming deployment.

Conkling, 27, of Centre, Pennsylvania, was commissioned December 10, 2004. She deployed last year in the western Pacific Ocean aboard the Japan-based amphibious assault ship Essex.

Cox, 26, of Pulaski, Arkansas, joined the Marine Corps on May 27, 2005, and became a First Lieutenant exactly two years later.

The pilots were participating in a night training exercise when the Super Cobra crashed about six miles east of Pine Valley. The cause of the accident is under investigation.

The Super Cobra was from the 3rd Marine Air Wing at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station. It took off from El Centro Naval Air Station about 30 to 40 minutes before the crash, officials said, and was flying with at least one other aircraft when it went down.

Firefighters and ordnance experts couldn't enter the crash site Wednesday due to fear of explosions from the rockets the helicopter carried. It wasn't clear whether they were able to gain access by Thursday afternoon.

The aircraft went down at 11:45 p.m. Tuesday night about two miles north of Interstate 8 near Kitchen Creek Road, off a road accessible only by four-wheel-drive vehicles.

A caller reported hearing a large explosion and saw a fire, said U.S. Forest Service Battalion Chief Brian Rhodes. The man told officials he heard a second large explosion about 30 minutes later.

People as far as seven miles away also reported hearing the blasts, Rhodes said. When firefighters arrived, they saw a military helicopter circling. About the same time, they received a call from the military that said an aircraft was missing, Rhodes said.

Submitted by Alan H Barbour, Historian, Historian, USMC Combat Helicopter Association

Marines say helicopter's fatal crash preventable

Wednesday, August 12, 2009 at 2 a.m.

EAST COUNTY — It was a simple but deadly oversight.

Two Miramar-based Marines were killed in a May 5 helicopter crash because they forgot to tell mechanics about a transmission cover that wasn't fully secured. The part flew off during their flight and struck the tail rotor, causing it to also break off and sending the Super Cobra crashing into the Cleveland National Forest.

The Marine Corps described the preventable tragedy in an investigation issued yesterday to The San Diego Union-Tribune, which had filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the report.

Capt. Jessica Conkling, 27, and 1st Lt. Aaron Cox, 26, died when the helicopter crashed at 11:45 p.m. about six miles east of Pine Valley. The Super Cobra and another helicopter were heading from El Centro Naval Air Facility to Miramar Marine Corps Air Station.

“Our deepest sympathies are with the Conkling and Cox families,” Maj. Gen. Terry Robling wrote in a letter accompanying the investigation.

On May 5, mechanics removed the Super Cobra's No. 2 transmission cowling after the helicopter crew couldn't start one of the engines. They didn't find any faulty wires.

One of the mechanics only partially refastened the transmission cover because at that point, he assumed the aircraft would remain at the El Centro base overnight for further inspection.

Later that same day, though, other mechanics discovered a malfunctioning engine starter in the Super Cobra. After learning that the starter could be replaced in 15 minutes, Conkling decided to proceed with the repair so she and Cox could fly back to Miramar along with the helicopter carrying their commanding officer.

Mechanics made the starter fix. But they didn't fasten the No. 2 transmission cowling any further because Conkling and Cox, the only people left at the base who knew that it had been removed earlier, made no mention of it. Conkling also declined an offer to inspect the mechanics' overall work.

“As the night progressed and the opportunity to recover the aircraft presented itself, the air crew simply forgot that the (cowling) had been only partially secured,” the report said.

This oversight led to “an uncontrollable flight condition for the air crew and put them in a situation that they were unable to recover from,” investigators wrote.

The report's authors recommended no disciplinary action against the mechanics and said the commanding officer should retain his rank. They urged the Marine Corps to establish clearer standards for certain flight procedures so mistakes such as the improperly fastened cowling might be avoided.

Conkling, of Centre, Pa., was commissioned Dec. 10, 2004. She deployed last year in the Western Pacific aboard the Japan-based amphibious assault ship Essex.

Cox, of Pulaski, Ark., joined the Marine Corps on May 27, 2005, and became a first lieutenant two years later.

Submitted by Alan H Barbour, Historian, Historian, USMC Combat Helicopter Association