Deadly Savannah plane crash highlights increase in military accidents

WASHINGTON — Wednesday’s deadly military plane crash on a Savannah, Georgia, road involved a C-130 cargo plane that was more than 50 years old and on its way to be retired in an aircraft boneyard. Last year, 15 Marines and one sailor were killed when another C-130 experienced what the commandant of the Marine Corps called a mechanical problem and fell from 20,000 feet.

“So last year we had a horrible year,” said Robert Neller, the Marine Corps commandant. “We had a horrible year.”

An analysis of accident data obtained by the Military Times found a nearly 40 percent increase in accidents between 2013 — the year congressional spending limits known as sequestration went into effect — and 2017. The accident rate for the Navy’s F-18 Super Hornet more than doubled. But most of that was due to less serious accidents, which often happen during routine flight deck or runway operations.

“We’ve had to stop doing stuff on the ground that causes us to lose otherwise perfectly good airplanes,” said Neller.

Even when no one is killed, the aircraft has to be taken out of service for repairs, setting off a chain reaction.

“That’s reducing the number of airplanes we have and that’s the stuff we’ve got to fix, too, because we want to be able to fly more, if we fly more, we should become more skilled, and we should have fewer Class A’s,” Neller said.

Crews work the scene after a plane crashed on a road in Savannah, Georgia, on May 2, 2018.

Savannah Professional Firefighters Association

Class As, the fatal accidents, are often caused by pilot error. A 2015 crash during a show by the Navy’s flight demonstration team was blamed on pilot error, even though he was recognized as one of the Blue Angel’s best fliers.

The military says it needs more flying hours, more spare parts and newer airplanes, but it also has to improve its own procedures to avoid needless accidents.

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