Fatal Marine helicopter crash caused by bird strike - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Fatal Marine helicopter crash caused by bird strike

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CAMP PENDLETON (CNS) - The helicopter crash that killed two Marines Corps officers at Camp Pendleton last September was caused by a bird strike, it was reported Friday.

The bird -- a female red-tailed hawk that probably weighed about 3 pounds -- hit the top of the AH-1W Cobra attack helicopter and damaged the pitch change link around 1 p.m. Sept. 19, according to U-T San Diego. Within seconds, vibrations from the impact caused the main rotor to separate from the aircraft, the newspaper reported.

The cause of the crash was determined by a Marine Corps investigation and released in a report from the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.

Capt. Jeffrey Bland, 37, and 1st Lt. Thomas Heitmann, 27, of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Training Squadron 303 were killed instantly in the crash, which sparked a 120-acre-plus brush fire on the North County installation. Both Marines hailed from Illinois.

Investigators concluded that "the bird-aircraft strike event was likely unavoidable," because any drastic maneuver to avoid the bird also could have caused a crash, U-T San Diego reported.

Investigators recommended that the Marine Corps work with Naval Air Systems Command to study the feasibility of redesigning the aircraft's transmission fairings and the pitch change links to make the AH-1W less vulnerable to bird strikes, according to the newspaper. It was not clear whether the recommendation would be followed.

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