Coast Guard Pilot Faces Negligent Homicide Charges In Deaths Of Flight Crew


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Coast Guard Pilot Faces Negligent Homicide Charges In Deaths Of Flight Crew

By Bill Goldston

December 8, 2011 – On September 30th, U.S. Coast Guardsmen Lt. Lance Leone, 31, was charged with negligent homicide, dereliction of duty, destruction of a government helicopter and the deaths of his flight crew when Leone was co-pilot of a Coast Guard Sikorsky MH-60T Jayhawk, 6017 that crashed at La Push, Washington on July 7, 2010.  

On Wednesday the U.S. Coast Guard was before the court to begin hearing testimony as to what brought down Sikorsky MH-60T Jayhawk that resulted in the deaths of three Coast Guardsmen.  

On the date of the crash, Sean Krueger, 33, pilot in command, and Leone, who was the co-pilot along with their crew, Brett Banks, 33, and Adam C. Hoke, 40, were ferrying the helicopter from Astoria, Oregon to Sitka, Alaska, when the crash occurred. Eyewitnesses said they saw the tail of the helicopter clip a large power cable that runs from La Push to James Island.  

Prosecutors, Commander Matthew Fey and Lt. Stan Fields, argued before the court that the pilots operated the Sikorsky MH-60T Jayhawk unsafely by flying too fast and too low which resulted in flying into an aerial power cable causing the crash. One witness reported the helicopter was flying about 200 feet above sea level and at a speed of 125 to 150 knots.

U.S. Coast Guardsmen, lead investigator, Captain Timothy Heitsch, testified before the court that there was no reason for the aircraft to be flying so low or fast, and the conversations captured by the cockpit voice recorder indicated the pilots, Krueger and Leone were sightseeing.  

Heitsch further stated he believed the aircraft was travelling, “approximately 240 feet, down to under 200, and to about 115 feet,” and that Leone wasn’t, “actively navigating,” and “did not warn the pilot of the wires.” He said, “I believe there was negligence on behalf on Lt. Leone that resulted in the deaths of three other people.” 

The attorney for Leone, a civilian attorney, John M. Smith from Arlington, Virginia argued that the witness provided conflicting information when she said she wasn’t good at guessing the speeds of large aircraft. Smith gave examples of Leone providing the pilot in command with safety hazards checks before the flight and when he warned the pilot in command of another aircraft and a bird in the vicinity of their flight. Smith also stated that there had been two previous crashes as a result of the wires and that the accident was caused by improperly marked lines.

The military hearing ended on Friday, with the defense arguing that the Guard had “set a trap” by not marking the power lines hit by the aircraft. Prosecutor Lt. Stanley Fields dismissed concerns about the wires as “red herrings,” and argued Lt. Lance Leone did not fulfill his duties as a co-pilot and should face court martial over the crash that killed three people.

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