Marana, AZ Marine Corps Aircraft Crash, Apr 2000

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19 MARINES DIE IN CRASH OF TROUBLE PLAGUED CRAFT.

Marana, Ariz., April 9 - A Marine Corps aircraft in the final stages of its introduction crashed in Arizona on Saturday night, killing all 19 marines on board and renewing questions about its safety.
The MV-22 Osprey plunged from the sky and exploded at a small regional airport in Marana, Ariz., 15 miles northwest of Tucson, as it was preparing to land, said a marine spokesman, Capt. Rob Winchester. The Osprey is a technology hybrid with rotors that swivel so that it can take off like a helicopter but cruise like a turboprop commuter plane.
This was the third crash of an Osprey in the past decade.
The cause of the accident is under review. Military investigators were dispatched to the scene from Yuma, Ariz., where the flight originated, and Washington.
The Osprey that crashed and a second one were conducting a night training mission about 9 p.m. local time. Most of the 4 crew members and 15 other marines who were killed had been stationed at Camp Pendleton, Calif.
Firefighters at the scene said that eyewitnesses reported seeing the aircraft head "straight downward," Katy Heiden, a spokeswoman for the Northwest Fire District, was quoted by The Associated Press as saying.
Controversy has dogged the Osprey program since its inception in 1981. The Marine Corps has championed the Osprey as a faster, larger and more flexible replacement for its Vietnam-era CH-46 Sea Knight transport helicopters.
Marine commanders envision the Osprey as the ideal long-range aircraft over the next 25 to 50 years for ferrying marines from Navy ships into combat zones, humanitarian operations or rescue missions.
Built jointly by Bell Helicopter Textron and the Boeing Company, the Osprey can reach speeds of more than 400 miles per hour and an altitude of 25,000 feet. It is designed to carry up to 24 people or external loads of 10,000 pounds.
But at $44 million, the Osprey has drawn sharp criticism from many military analysts for its steep cost as well as its safety record. A report by the General Accounting Office determined in 1990 that the Osprey was too heavy and vibrated excessively in early tests.
President George Bush, on the advice of Secretary of Defense Richard B. Cheney, tried to kill the program in 1991. But Congress kept it alive by continuing to finance development.
Builders say modifications in the original design have made today's Ospreys lighter and safer. President Clinton eventually authorized buying up to 458 planes for the Marines, Air Force and Navy, with 360 of them going to the Marines.
Two other Ospreys have crashed during the program's development. One nonfatal crash, in Delaware in 1991, was attributed to wiring problems in the gyroscope system, which keeps the aircraft flying level. In the second accident, in Virginia in 1992, all seven people on board were killed after an engine caught fire.
The Osprey that crashed on Saturday was one of four based at the Marine Corps air station in Yuma. The planes were conducting their final flight test flights before being assigned to the first operational Osprey squadron, in New River, N.C.
The final testing phase was originally scheduled to be completed in late May or June, but Marine officials said this weekend's accident could delay that. The Marines today temporarily suspended test flights of the remaining three Ospreys pending the outcome of the crash investigation. The first full squadron of 12 operational aircraft was to be ready by January 2001.
Congressional supporters today defended the aircraft and its future mission. "It's certainly premature to think this accident will have serious impact on the program," Representative Curt Weldon, a Pennsylvania Republican who is one of the Osprey's staunchest backers, said in a telephone interview.
In a statement released by the White House, President Clinton said, "This terrible loss of life is a reminder of how many men and women in the nation's military put their lives at risk, each and every day, so that we might be a free people."

New York Times New York 2000-04-10

The Casualties:
3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.
Sgt. JOSE ALVAREZ, 28.
Pfc. GABRIEL C. CLEVENGER, 21.
Pfc. ALFRED CORONA, 23.
Lance Cpl. JASON T. DUKE, 28.
Lance Cpl. JESUS GONZALEZ SANCHEZ, 27.
Lance Cpl. SETH G. JONES, 18.
2nd Lt. CLAYTON J. KENNEDY, 24.
Lance Cpl. JORGE A. MORIN, 21.
Cpl. ADAM C. NEELY, 22.
Pfc. KENNETH O. PADDIO, 23.
Pfc. GEORGE P. SANTOS, 24.
Lance Cpl. KEOKI P. SANTOS, 24.
Cpl. CAN SOLER, 21.
Pvt. ADAM L. TATRO, 19.
Marine Wing Communications Squadron
38, Marine Air Control Group 38.
Cpl. ERIC J. MARTINEZ, 21.
Marine Helicopter Squadron 1.
Maj. JOHN A. BROW, 39.
Maj. BROOKS S. GRUBER, 34.
Cpl. KELLY S. KEITH, 22.
Marine Tilt-Rotor Training Squadron 204.
Staff Sgt. WILLIAM B. NELSON, 30.