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DOD News Briefing with Lt. Gen. Schmidle Jr. on the Results of an Investigation into the April 11 Mishap of an MV-22B in Morocco

Presenter: Deputy Commandant for Marine Corps Aviation Lt. Gen. Robert E. Schmidle Jr.
August 17, 2012 12:00 PM EDT

             MAJOR AL ESKALIS:  Good afternoon ladies and gentleman.  I'm Major Al Eskalis, the media relations officer for -- for the Marine Corps.

             Shortly I'll -- I'll introduce Lieutenant General Robert Schmidle, Deputy Commandant for Aviation.  In his current assignment, he sets policy, facilitates the manning, training and equipping of Marine aviation units.

             Before I introduce him, I'd just like to take a few minutes just to go over some items for -- for this brief.

             One, all General Schmidle's comments will be on the record.  He has about 30 minutes for today's brief.  He'll start with comments and then open the floor up for questions and answers.

             Also here today are our two experts from our headquarters staff that can address specific investigation -- specific questions about the investigative process and -- and more on the MV-22 aircraft itself.  That's Mr. Peter Delorier who's the deputy counsel to the commandant of the Marine Corps; and Major Brian Koch, who's an experienced MV-22 pilot.

             Following the briefing, you'll be able to collect a copy of the redacted investigation from our Marines here in the room, as well as if you have any further questions or follow-on questions, again we'll remain here to answer those for you.

             Once the general opens up the floor for questions, I would just ask that you identify yourself by name and organization so we -- he sees who he's talking to.  And -- and please, if you would limit yourself to one question and one follow-up.

             And with that, I'd like to introduce Lieutenant General Robert Schmidle.  Thank you.

             LIEUTENANT GENERAL ROBERT E. SCHMIDLE JR.:  Good afternoon.  Welcome and -- and thank you for attending the brief this afternoon.

             My purpose this afternoon is to give you a summary into the -- into the events leading up to and the mishap of the MV-22 in Morocco back in April of this year.  We're going to -- what -- what I'm going to talk about is the investigative report itself.  And this is -- and it will be available, as Major Eskalis said, at the end of the briefing. 

             And what I want to do now is to take the opportunity to explain to you, to put in context what occurred and -- and also the process by which we investigated this -- this particular mishap, and then to answer any of your questions.

             So as -- as most of you know, the accident, first and foremost, claimed the lives of two of our Marines:  the Corporals Robby Reyes and Derek Kerns.  And it injured two others, the pilot and the co- pilot.

             And the loss of these Marines, obviously, affects all of us as -- as Marines, and I just wanted to express my personal condolences to the family for their loss and their -- their grieving.

             The Marine Corps is committed -- has been and is committed to supporting the families, again, as we share in -- in their -- in their grief.

             So to begin with, on April 11 of this past year, 2012, an MV-22 Osprey with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 261, crashed in the Moroccan training area that was -- then -- while they were participating in an exercise called "African Lion."  This is a bilateral between two countries -- so it was between the Moroccan government and the United States -- exercise conducted with the Moroccan military.  And the aircraft were operating from the amphibious ship, USS Iwo Jima, which is part of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

             In the months that followed the accident, we conducted an exhaustive and deliberate investigation into the facts and circumstances that surrounded the accident.  The effort focused on discovering the factors that contributed to the accident and then helping us identify measures that we could take to prevent future mishaps.

             Ultimately, the investigation determined that the aircraft did not suffer from any mechanical or material failures and that there were no issues with the safety of the aircraft.

             So what I'm going to do now, to go through the rest of the brief, I'm going to talk a little bit about the investigative process itself and what -- and what the entails, and then I'm going to talk about the findings that we -- the findings that were discovered in the investigation. 

             I'm then going to give you an overview of what actually happened and walk you through the accident itself, and then at the end talk to you about what we're going to do going forward, how the Marine Corps is going to do all it can to ensure that this -- this doesn't happen again.

             So, first of all, I'll give you a brief overview of the investigation you're going to receive today.  We call it a JAG manual, and it stands for the Judge Advocate General's Manual, and it applies to both the Navy and the Marine Corps, and it is a -- it's a process for conducting what we refer to as command investigations, and it's used by the commander of a unit to conduct an investigation so that he can assess the relevant facts of an investigation. 

             He also gets from that -- from this investigation the opinions and the recommendations of the investigating officer.  And then he can use that to determine what appropriate actions he's going to take.

             These are required in the case of major incidents.  For instance in a loss of life or a serious injury or a loss of a high value, a large amount of money, it's required that we do a JAG Manual investigation.

             These investigations also run in parallel with other processes, and I'll talk to you a little bit about that later.  There's an -- there's an Accident Board investigation that'll be running in parallel with this -- with this investigation.  It's a little bit behind it right now.

             So a JAG Manual is conducted by a commissioned officer that has the appropriate skills and experience to do this.  He's also supported by the commander of the unit with whatever he needs in terms of people, expertise.

             So, for example, if the investigating officer needed more experience in the V-22 aircraft -- with the V-22 aircraft -- he would draw on some subject matter experts to help him with that.

             The report of the investigation is the product of the reviewing officer.  He then delivers it to the commander and in it he describes the investigation's findings of fact.  So you'll see in the investigation later here are over 100 findings of fact, and each one of the findings of facts has to be -- or fact -- has to be supported by some piece of evidence.

             So when you see the report today, you'll see a series of numbers and letters next to the findings of facts.  That is the evidentiary supporting documentation, if you will, for the findings of fact.

             In addition to that, he offers his opinions.  He said, "This is what I think happened, this is what I think was the cause," et cetera, and he makes recommendations at the end -- "So I would recommend that."

             And now those recommendations and those opinions are not binding on a commander.  They are part of what a commander would use to determine what appropriate actions would be taken.

             So in this particular case you have the recommendations and the opinions of the investigating officer, and from there he forwards it up a chain of command, and the next general officer in his chain of command was the commanding general of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing. He endorses it, says, I either agree, disagree with the -- with the -- with the opinions or the recommendations. 

             And then from there it went to the commanding general of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force and he made recommendations and he made comments on it.  Those are called endorsements. 

             And from there, when he endorses it, the last general officer in the chain of command, the investigation is considered to be closed and complete, and that's what occurred last week, and that's why we're here today.

             The JAG Manual is not the only process in this case that's running.  There are two other things that are going to be occurring. 

             One of them is in process now.  It's called the Aircraft Mishap Board.  It is in the safety investigation chain.

              It's a safety board that's being conducted.  And there also will be a field flight performance board that will evaluate the performance of the pilots in this particular mishap.  That board has not been convened yet because the physical injuries to the pilots are such that they are not able to actually sit for the board right now. So as soon as their convalescence is complete, we will begin that particular part of the investigative process.

             So now that I've talked about the process, what I -- what I'd like to do now is to summarize the events that happened that day and sort of walk you through what actually occurred.  And as I start that, again I would just ask you to keep in mind that the investigation did determine that there were no mechanical issues with the airplane. 

             So on this particular day in -- on April 11th of 2012, what occurred that day is that this aircraft was flying from a landing field -- an airfield in Morocco and going to a landing zone, transporting Marines to this landing zone.  So they'd load up.  They'd transport the Marines, would off-load.  They would fly back, pick up another load of Marines as part of this training exercise.

             So what happened on this particular incident is the aircraft lifted up off the deck and the wind -- and this will be important as we go into this -- the wind is blowing into the face of the airplane. It lifts off the deck here, and normally we would -- we would depart into the wind, but there are people and vehicles and structures in the landing zone.  So the pilots made a decision to turn and take off with a tail wind so that they wouldn't endanger any of the folks that were in the rest of the landing zone.

             So what happens is the airplane lifts up into what we call a "hover" so it's about 25 feet off the ground, and the pilot begins to turn the airplane.  And it's called a "pedal turn," because of the rudder pedals.  So he pushes the right rudder pedal.  The airplanes turns like this, and as the airplane turns, of course, the wind is not in front of the airplane anymore.  The wind is now going to be behind him.

             And -- and as you know from aerodynamics, in order for a wing to fly, it needs wind to come into it like this.  So then what happens is the pilot turns the airplane.  The wind is at his tail.  And he now begins to rotate what we call the "nacelle."  So the two big propellers that are straight up when you take off like a helicopter, and we bring them down like this to make it fly like an airplane.

             So he begins to move them forward and there's a little knob over here on the throttle, and he pushes it to roll them forward.  Well, as he rolls the nacelles forward, the center of gravity of the airplane goes forward.  So what happens now is that the aircraft turns, the nacelles roll forward.  It begins to pitch forward.  The wind catches the tail here, exacerbates the motion and pitches the nose down. 

             While all that is happening, the control stick doesn't have enough movement at this point to move the horizontal stabilizer on the tail up enough to get the nose position to come up.  So what happens then is the aircraft now is committed and it flies into the ground.

             One of the things that could have been done in this investigation, the investigation determined it could have been done, is if the airplane had been flying like a helicopter, for example.  So in other words, instead of moving the nacelles down quickly, they'd left them up like this until they had enough forward speed to -- to override the tail wind, and then flown the airplane away.

             Unfortunately, the pilots didn't recognize that at the time, so that's -- so this is -- that's how the airplane -- what caused it to crash.

             So what -- what we've talked about here so far, that's just a brief re-creation of what happened in the -- in the accident itself.

              So what you're going to see today in the investigation report, you're going to see other findings and recommendations.  Like I said, there's like 102, I think, findings of fact in here, and they'll take you through a whole series of things. 

             And then you're going to see some recommendations in there.  And I want to give you now some insight into the way forward, what we -- what we, the Marine Corps, are going to do next.

             So, first of all, we take -- we're going to take all the information from the JAG Manual investigation and from the safety investigation, which is still in staffing.  Then we're going to take those results and the results of the Field Flight Performance Board. As we go forward, they will all be part of what we recommend or what we implement to keep this from occurring.

             Now, having said that, there are some things we're going to do right away.  For example, we are briefing all the V-22 pilots in the Marine Corps and all the air crew in the back on this mishap.  They will all be briefed on this so that they all understand exactly what occurred and what caused this to happen with this tail wind component. And so that will happen right away.

             We also are going to make changes in the way that we -- in the things that we look at in our simulators, so that as they're going through the simulators they can recreate a lot of these -- of these things, and in the training generally.  So you can expect to see us do things right away to mitigate this.

             And then, as we look forward and train, we're going to look at what we could do in the academic syllabus.  What is it that we're teaching pilots, is there something else that we can -- that we can teach them to help them better understand what kind of a situation this was, and also to educate them about decision-making processes and things.  I mean, so there are some academic things that will happen.

             And then there are simulators.  So we fly simulators routinely to simulate aircraft emergencies that we would not do in the air, for obvious reasons.  So in the simulators that the pilots go through now, we can recreate this kind of an incident and learn from it as we go forward.

             And also in the flight regime itself, in the flying itself there are things that we will -- that we will and can -- can and will alter to make sure that everyone is aware of this particular -- of this issue and what happened in this mishap.      The second thing we're going to do is publications.  So we have a series of manuals that we use, that the pilots use, to refer to that have limitations in them, they'll have warnings and cautions, and they'll talk to you about the airplane.

             So one of the things that we will do going forward is ensure that the clarity of what's in there, of what's in our -- we call it a NATOPs  Manual, stands for Naval Air Training Operating Procedures Manual -- what's in there is clear and precise and concise about the way it explains this particular phenomena, if you will, phenomena, this particular area of flight.

             So those are a couple of things that we are going to do.  You can anticipate that we will begin the briefing process.  That actually already has started with the crews.  So we are doing something right now, and then we're looking down the road to what we're going to do -- what we're going to do later on.

             The -- so as -- as you can see from what I just told you, the -- our efforts investigating this accident we think were very thorough and comprehensive.  And, quite frankly, we think that this is an accurate depiction of what happened.

             My focus for the last 15 minutes has been to review the facts and the circumstances surrounding this accident.  And at the end of the day the one thing that did come through loud and clear, as I told you earlier, is that the -- there was no -- nothing mechanical with the airplane that caused this to occur. 

             The airplane has been proven.  It's now flown over 130,000 hours and it's on its 13th combat deployment.  And the airplane has proven itself in all of those regimes.  It's proven itself in humanitarian operations.  It's proven itself in rescuing pilots. 

             And so we -- we believe that is a -- that it is a solid and safe airplane.

              And -- and my current job as the head of Marine aviation, I am committed to doing all that I can to keep this kind of mishap from -- from occurring again, and that's what I control in terms of the training of the pilots and education of the pilots.

             So that's -- that's a quick review of, excuse me, of the -- of the incident.  And I'd like to just kind of finish up my remarks with where I started, which is the -- back to the beginning, to the -- just to mention again the families of the Marines that -- you know, the brothers and -- and in one case a father and a son that were lost. And -- and again, I am committed that we do everything -- that I do everything I can to keep this from happening again.

             But -- but we grieve with the families.  This is -- this is something that we can share in their grief, but clearly don't understand their loss.

             So, with that, I would offer to take any of your questions.

             Please?

             Q:  General, going back to the scenario that -- the tail- wind scenario that caused the aircraft to tip, has there been any other instances with other -- the Osprey operations where that tail -- that tail-wind situation has happened, but the pilots were able to salvage it? 

             LT. GEN. SCHMIDLE:  That -- no.  The -- as a matter of fact, they flew the same profile -- you will read in the investigation.  The -- the other pilot had flown the exact same profile on the approach prior to this into the same landing zone and did not have this issue.

             And so it -- it's a -- as you all can appreciate, having -- having looked at these things, there -- it's an extraordinary complex set of circumstances that caused this to happen.  And it could be something that might depend on how quickly you move the nacelle, where exactly the tail wind.  The wind was gusting that day.  It was gusting between 15 and 27 knots.  It's a pretty big span of wind.  And 20, 25 knots of wind is a pretty significant -- it's a pretty strong wind.

             So it would depend on -- on that.  It would depend on the, you know, what exactly he did with the controls in the airplane.  But it is an area -- and you will see in the investigation -- it's a particular area that it says to avoid with that kind of a tail wind. 

             Q:  And General also, too, on the field flight performance board, when the pilot do -- are ready to sit before the board, what sort of -- are they facing any disciplinary?  I mean, could they face possible disciplinary charges, possible loss of flight status?  Is there -- what sort of scenarios are they looking at?

             LT. GEN. SCHMIDLE:  That is -- loss of flight status is possible. Conditional flight status is possible.  These are things that the field flight performance board will -- will make recommendations with regard to the flight status of the pilots.  That is correct.

             Q:  General -- (inaudible) -- pilots, actually copilots, operated aircraft based on the -- (inaudible) -- according to the previous press release.  So that means this accident was caused by the deficiency of NATOPS manual.  Is that right?

             LT. GEN. SCHMIDLE:  I would say that the -- the accident, again, was caused by a series of things, one of which was the effects of the weather; one of which were the decisions and the -- and the actions of the pilot -- of the pilots.  And clearly if the pilots were -- the area was identified in NATOPS as an area to avoid. 

            It -- it is conceivable that we could be more clear about exactly what happens in that area, but just because it's an avoidance area doesn't mean that you shouldn't, and that there wouldn't be a reason to fly in there.  It just means that there are decisions you have to make about -- about doing that -- that, and about what the -- the way the airplane is going to handle when you get there.

             Q:  General, were there any recommendations or findings from the investigating officer that the upper chain of command II MEF did not agree with?  And if so, why?

              LT. GEN. SCHMIDLE:  I think that when you see the -- the version you've got, that nothing has been redacted from those recommendations.

             Q:  We haven't had the opportunity to read the report just yet.  Do -- do you recall if there were any major disagreements?

             LT. GEN. SCHMIDLE:  No.  The best I recall is there were not.  The recommendations were -- were accepted by the -- by the endorsing chain.  But I'd have to -- I'd have to refer you directly to that -- but to the best of my recollection.

             Q:  So, you did not use the term "pilot error."  Is that a conscious choice or -- are you -- are you thinking that--

             LT. GEN. SCHMIDLE:  Well, the -- again, as -- as you well know because you've been close to this for years, there are a whole series of things that go into causing an accident -- and from -- from the weather, to the decisions to the actions that they made.  And it would seem to me that that is a -- is a more narrow classification of what contributed to this -- to this -- to this mishap, so.

            Q:  When you -- when you -- Courtney Kube from NBC News. When you were explaining the -- the theory of what happened immediately before the crash, you said there was one of the controls that couldn't be moved anymore?  Why was that?

             LT. GEN. SCHMIDLE:  The -- the stick -- the amount of authority is the technical term we use that the -- that the stick has to move the stabilizer in the back is determined by a series of things.  One of them is the position of the nacelles.  So the nacelles were positioned in such a way that when they pulled the stick all the way back there wasn't enough authority.  In other words, the stick didn't -- wasn't able to generate the kind of movement of the control surfaces that was required for the airplane to fly out.

             If you've ever flown in a small plane and -- if you ever get a chance, ask them to stall it or pull the stick back, and -- and the airplane will stall like this and then the nose will drop off because it doesn't -- you don't have the aeronautical -- the wind over that tail to be able to stabilize the airplane and that's pretty much it.

            Q:  (OFF-MIKE) is there any -- you mentioned -- you mentioned that there's already training for other pilots right now for lessons learned.  Is there any -- was there any specific guideline that's coming out of this?  Like if the -- if the wind is gusting at X knots -- above X knots and -- and if you have a tail wind or -- they are are to X, Y, Z.  Is there anything very specific that's coming out of this that --

             LT. GEN. SCHMIDLE:  Well -- so right now we are briefing the crews on this. Again, the investigation is just -- has just been completed.  I would anticipate that you will likely see something very specific that will come out of this, but it would be too early in the process right now for me to speculate on what that might be.

             Q:  (inaudible) -- military.com.  You mentioned there's also an Accident Investigation Board that's currently ongoing.  Any chance likely that they would come to a conclusion different than what you have with this report?

             LT. GEN. SCHMIDLE:  Don't know.  That's a -- that's a privileged investigation, as you know.  And I -- I don't -- I couldn't comment on that.

             Q:  (OFF-MIKE) with American Forces Press Service.

             The crew went up and shifted away because they didn't want to overfly other troops.  Now I've been in Afghanistan where the B-22s overflew troops all the time.  Was -- were they just being nice?  Or was there an idea not to -- not to overfly them?

             LT. GEN. SCHMIDLE:  I -- I -- I'd be speculating on -- on their decision process because I've not talked to them.  But that was what -- what they had told the investigating officer, what the pilot told the investigating officer, that he -- that's the reason they made the turn.

             Q:  (inaudible) -- a real danger to the troops on the ground if they had overflown them, right?

             SCMIDLE:  I -- as you said, you know, people get overflown all the time.  But again, they made a decision to do that for -- for what appeared to them to be very good reasons.  So -- but I -- and I -- and I couldn't speculate.  Like I said, I -- I personally haven't talked to the -- either of the pilots yet, so.

             Q:  Thank you.

             Q:  (inaudible) -- with -- (inaudible) -- Television.

             Has the Japanese government requested any further investigation into this since they were briefed on it earlier this week?

             LT. GEN. SCHMIDLE:  No, not to my knowledge.  We -- we gave the Japanese -- they sent an assessment team over here and we gave them an extensive day at -- down at New River where they went through the simulators and they flew in the V-22.

             And then, on Wednesday, they were here and we briefed them -- I was one of the folks in there -- on exactly what we're briefing you on right now. 

             And, please?

            Q:  (Hiroshi? ) -- (inaudible) -- Asahi Shinbun.  I think it's been five months since the incidents have happened.  Why did you take, you know, five months to get the conclusion?  Is there any specific point that you need to take time to investigate?

             LT. GEN. SCHMIDLE:  No, actually the -- what -- the amount of time it takes is -- there's a lot of things that go into that.  One of them is how quickly they can -- the investigating officer can talk to the people that were involved in it.  So the accident occurred in Morocco.

             But actually, if you look at a lot of these investigations, that's not really a long time.  It was done as quickly in order to be comprehensive as we possibly could.

             Please?

             Q:  (inaudible) -- Broadcasting System.  You just said that the other pilot have flown in the same profile, but he had no problems.  Why did this specific pilot make this specific decision? Does that come from the lack of his experience?  What's your conclusion about him making the specific --

             LT. GEN. SCHMIDLE:  Well, you know, that's -- it's -- I hate to say this, but it kind of depends.  I mean, sometimes -- so the first pilot flew a very similar maneuver and did not have any -- have any issues with it.  The second pilot flew a similar maneuver and did. 

             He -- he had less flight time, the co-pilot, but our V-22 pilots, these are very, very good pilots that wind up in these airplanes.  I mean, they -- they wind up at the top of their class when they go through pilot college there.

             And so -- so this was a very good pilot, and he did not have a lot of -- as much experience as the other one did.  Exactly what -- how much of that contributed, it would be hard for me to tell.  I think when we do the Field Flight Performance Board and we have an opportunity -- I do -- but the investigating officers the opportunity to talk with the pilots about the actions and the activities that occurred in there.      But, as you know, you can -- you can have something occur one minute and do exactly the same thing, and two minutes later like hitting a tennis ball and it doesn't work the way it did the first time.

             So I don't know exactly.  But I do suspect that -- I'm confident that we will get to a point where we will understand what it was that the co-pilot did not feel as quickly or didn't understand as quickly that was occurring with the airplane.

             Q:  (inaudible) -- Actually, my question is, in terms of the manual, how soon do you expect from rewriting the manual about this?

             LT. GEN. SCHMIDLE:  Changes?  Well, we've -- I have seen in my past experience in 30-some years of flying airplanes, I've seen us make changes in weeks.  I mean, I've seen them happen very, very quickly. 

             And, of course, way back in the day when I was doing a lot of this we were getting paper, and you'd cut it out of your manual and you'd tape it in there.  Obviously, we have faster and better ways to do that now.

             But I would expect that you will see changes here very quickly. And the recommendations and the changes that we're making will be in place here very soon.

             Q:  (inaudible) -- finish up training for the soldiers -- pilots -- pilot training -- finish training --

             (CROSSTALK)

             LT. GEN. SCHMIDLE:  Oh, the training.  It'd be hard for me to give you an exact time on that, but I -- we can -- we can and will begin to institute changes in that training very quickly. 

             I think that in the squadrons that are in the fleet right now, the operational squadrons,  that the changes to the way that they do things will occur right away.  The incident will be briefed to squadron commanders and we will say to them this is what occurred and this is an area that we need to -- that we need to be very -- we need to be very careful in this area when we fly.

             And then we will begin to work up the words that'll go across all of the manuals so that everybody has the same training. I think you're going to see that happen very, very quickly.  This is a -- this is a big deal to us.  This is, you know, this is a -- we take this -- this mishap very, very seriously.

             MAJ. ESKALIS:  Ladies and gentlemen, the general is -- (inaudible) -- one more question.

             Q:  (inaudible) -- newspaper.  I know MV-22 is a high-tech airplane, so it's still hard for me to understand why this happened. Isn't there any way to control the movement of the nacelle automatically under a tail-wind situation?  Isn't that technically possible?

             LT. GEN. SCHMIDLE:  So there -- there is some in the -- in the MV-22, there -- there are some limitations to the speed with which you can move the nacelles or to the angle that you can move them depending on the air speed.  In this particular case, this is in an area where the rate at which the nacelles can move is slowed down considerably, but it is -- it is not an area that currently precludes you from being able to move them at all.  You just have to move them more slowly.

             But your question is -- is a good one because we may look at some of those kinds of things down the road to see if there's something we can do.  But right now, that's where the limitations on the speed of the nacelle to move -- to move down.

             Q:  (inaudible) -- one more thing?  As an aviation expert, if this had been just any standard helicopter, a standard Marine Corps helicopter, when you said that if maybe the nacelles had not been in a plane position this might not have happened.  If it had been a standard helicopter, would you have had the same problem with the tail wind?

             LT. GEN. SCHMIDLE:  Well, it's difficult to say because we current -- we clearly have had helicopter mishaps that have occurred because of wind conditions in the L.Z., so.

 All right.  Thank you all very much.

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