The United States Army has suspended aviation units for training following the deaths of 12 soldiers in helicopter crashes in Alaska and Kentucky over the last month. Lt Col Terence Kelley, an army spokesperson, stated that the suspension was effective immediately, with units grounded until they complete the training.
Training for active-duty units will take place between 1 and 5 May, while National Guard and Reserve units will have until 31 May to complete theirs. “The move grounds all army aviators except those participating in critical missions until they complete the required training,” the army said.
Two army helicopters collided near Healy in Alaska on Thursday, killing three soldiers and injuring a fourth. The aircraft from the 1st Attack Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment at Fort Wainwright were returning from training at the time of the crash, according to the army. The unit is part of the 11th Airborne Division, which is nicknamed the Arctic Angels.
Military investigators were making their way to the scene of the crash. A team from Fort Novosel in Alabama was expected to arrive by Saturday, said John Pennell, a spokesperson for the US army in Alaska. The army said on Thursday that two of the soldiers had died at the site and the third on the way to a hospital in Fairbanks. The injured soldier was taken to hospital and was in stable condition on Friday, Pennell said. The names of those killed were not immediately released.
“The safety of our aviators is our top priority, and this stand-down is an important step to make certain we are doing everything possible to prevent accidents and protect our personnel,” said the army’s chief of staff, Gen James McConville.
The crash is the second accident involving military helicopters in Alaska this year. Two soldiers were injured when an Apache helicopter rolled after take-off from Talkeetna in February. The aircraft was one of four traveling from Fort Wainwright to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage.
In March, nine soldiers were killed when two Black Hawk medical evacuation helicopters crashed during a routine night training exercise about 30 miles (50 kilometers) northeast of Fort Campbell in Kentucky. The army said both deadly crashes were still under investigation, but that “there is no indication of any pattern between the two mishaps”.
The US Army’s decision to suspend aviation units for training comes amidst a growing concern over the safety of military aviation. According to a report by the Military Times, the number of military aviation accidents has increased by 40% over the last five years. In 2017, the US military lost 37 service members in non-combat aviation accidents, which was the deadliest year for military aviation in nearly a decade.
The US military has been grappling with a shortage of aircraft and pilots, which has put a strain on the service. The shortage has been attributed to a combination of factors, including budget cuts, an increase in demand for air support, and the difficulty of training new pilots.
The US Army has been working to address the issue by increasing the number of flight hours for pilots and investing in new training programs. However, the recent crashes have highlighted the need for more comprehensive measures to ensure the safety of military aviation.
The suspension of aviation units for training is a necessary step to prevent further accidents and protect the lives of military personnel. The US Army must continue to prioritize the safety of its aviators and take all necessary measures to prevent accidents in the future.