Air Force grounds planes for one-day safety review after string of deadly crashes

PHOTO: Flames and smoke rise from an Air National Guard C-130 cargo plane after it crashed near Savannah, Ga., May 2, 2018.PlayJames Lavine/AP
WATCH 5 dead after C-130 aircraft crashes in Georgia

After a string of deadly aviation accidents, the Air Force has directed all of their wing units with flying and maintenance functions to ground aircraft for one day to conduct an "Operational Safety Review."

Active duty wings will have until May 21 while National Guard and Reserve units will have until June 25 to complete the review.

The order from Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David Goldfein comes after a WC-130 aircraft that belonged to the Puerto Rico National Guard crashed outside Georgia last week, killing all nine airmen on board. The 53-year old plane was heading to its retirement in Arizona when it spiraled out of the sky just outside the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport.

“I am directing this operational safety review to allow our commanders to assess and discuss the safety of our operations and to gather feedback from our Airmen who are doing the mission every day,” Goldfein said in a press release Tuesday.

A Military Times investigation revealed fatal military aviation accidents across all the services are at a six-year high with 12 fatal incidents claiming the lives of 35 military pilots and crew since Oct. 1.

The Air Force acknowledged that manned aviation mishaps have increased since the beginning of Fiscal Year 2018, but said safety statistics over the past decade show aviation incidents characterized as the two most severe types of accidents trend downward.

During a briefing with reporters on Tuesday, the Air Force Chief of Safety Maj. Gen. John Rauch said there hasn't been a trend connecting fatal Air Force aviation incidents, but that a cluster of mishaps led to the stand down.

After the WC-130 crash, Chief Pentagon spokesperson Dana White declined to call the increase in deadly incidents across the services a "crisis," instead pointing to years of unstable budgets from Congress as damaging to the department.

Similarly last week, the Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller acknowledged that no "single thing" is to blame for a rise in accidents, but that funding affects the number of planes available and the number of flight hours pilots receive.

"We need more hours, we need better parts support, we need new airplanes, we've got to improve our procedures, and we've got to stop doing stuff on the ground that causes us to lose otherwise perfectly good airplanes," he said. "And we need to train. It's a dangerous business."

The WC-130 crash was the latest aviation mishap for the Air Force, which lost a pilot from the elite Thunderbird air demonstration team last month after a F-16 crashed outside of Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.

In March, seven airmen died when an HH-60 Pave Hawk crashed into a power line in western Iraq.

“We cannot afford to lose a single Airman or weapons system due to a mishap that could have been prevented,” Goldfein said. “Our men and women have volunteered to give their last full measure for America's security. My intent is to have commanders lead focused forums with their Airmen to help identify gaps and seams that exist or are developing, which could lead to future mishaps or unsafe conditions.”

Each service has dealt with their own deadly crashes in 2018.

In January, two soldiers from Colorado died when an Apache helicopter crashed at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. Then, last month, two more soldiers were killed when an Apache went down at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

In March, two Naval aviators were killed when their F/A-18 Super Hornet crashed near Naval Air Station Key West.

And last month, four Marines were killed when a CH-53E Super Stallion crashed near El Centro, California.

Last week, White said she was not aware of any "holistic review" of aviation being conducted by the Pentagon, adding that each crash is unique to the service and platform.

A spokesperson for the Marine Corps told ABC News the service does not plan to enforce a similar aviation safety review "at this time." The Navy held an annual aviation safety stand down on May 2 with a specific focus on mishap prevention during maintenance, Navy spokesperson Lt. Ben Anderson said. That was not tied to any specific crash.

Spokespeople for the Army have not yet returned a request for comment.

Rauch told reporters the Air Force would share its review with other services, but the final report would not be released to the public.

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