Australian Black Hawk inquiry completed

UPDATING THE previous reports on the collision on June 12, 1996, of Australian Army/5th Avn Rgt S-70A-9 Black Hawks A25-109 and A25-113 (Whte-Offs, August, November 1996 and January 1997), on March 6, 1997, the final findings of the board of inquiry were announced in Parliament, revealing many separate factors which had combined to cause the tragedy. These included undertaking the exercise with no formal reconnaissance and little co-operation between the SAS and Army pilots. No aerial photographs had been supplied and the pre-flight briefing had used an inaccurate diagram, while the pilots flew too low during the exercise and most knew they were off-track but failed to inform the leader.

In addition, the target area proved difficult to see through night vision goggles, partly because of shadows cast by high ground backed by the sunset afterglow. Some crew were inappropriately qualified or lacking proficiency, reconnaissance briefings were inaccurate, orders failed to address changes and procedures, some crew failed to resolve conflicting information before the mission, faulty data on the objective was relied on, the mission was changed from day to night without rehearsal and there was a lack of experience and deficiencies in leadership of the lead helicopter.

The inquiry recommended that disciplinary action be considered against five members of the Australian Defence Force, the potential charges relating to negligence, deficiencies in the exercise of command and errors in judgement. It also found contributory factors which included a fall in aircrew proficiency because of a shortage of serviceable Black Hawks in the previous two years, and a lack of experienced crews because so many experienced pilots had quit the service.

As a result of the inquiry, an Australian Defence Force Flying Safety Authority will be established and be responsible for maintaining flying safety standards in all arms of the military. Night-flying, anti-terrorist exercises will not be resumed until aircrew have been sufficiently trained to undertake them safely. Some 79 recommendations were made by the inquiry board to improve safety and a wide-ranging plan to implement these has now begun. These included a review of training and command procedures, an examination of new and improved equipment, including mid-air collision alarms and crash data recorders. The Army will also look at a series of measures, including bonuses, to keep pilots in the service longer.

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