An investigation into the U.S. Navy's 2021 helicopter crash off the coast of San Diego found the disaster was not caused by operator error.
The ill-fated MH-60S helicopter had been conducting flight operations in September aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln when it plummeted into the water. Five passengers were pronounced dead after an unsuccessful search and rescue mission, while six other service members were injured. After an extensive investigation, the Navy said the tragedy was caused by mechanical damage, not the pilot.
"Based on interviews with multiple HSC-8 personnel and corroborated by the results of the El, there is no evidence that weather conditions or pilot error were causal or contributing factors to the mishap," the official Navy report reads.
The five sailors, all assigned to the Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 8, were identified as Lt. Bradley A. Foster, 29, a pilot from Oakhurst, California; Lt. Paul R. Fridley, 28, a pilot from Annandale, Virginia; Naval Air Crewman (Helicopter) 2nd Class James P. Buriak, 31, from Salem, Virginia; Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Sarah F. Burns, 31, from Severna Park, Maryland; and Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Bailey J. Tucker, 21, from St. Louis, Missouri. Crews later recovered their bodies.
The sailors were riding in a MH-60S helicopter "conducting routine flight operations" from USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) when the aircraft crashed into the sea approximately 60 nautical miles off the coast of San Diego at 4:30 p.m. PST, Aug. 31, the U.S. Navy 3rd Fleet said.
A sixth sailor aboard the helicopter at the time of the crash was rescued later that same day and transported ashore in stable condition. In addition to the five dead, Navy officials disclosed that another five were injured on the ship when the aircraft operating on the deck crashed into the sea.