For more than a decade, the wives of Marine Corps pilots Maj. Brooks Gruber and Lt. Col. John Brow have sought to clear the names of their late husbands, who were blamed for the crash of a MV-22 Osprey in the Arizona desert in April 2000, killing them and 17 others.
Earlier this week, the Pentagon did just that.
According to a report by Stars and Stripes, Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work wrote that after a review of all the investigations and reports on the crash, “I disagree with the characterization that the pilots’ drive to accomplish the mission was ‘the fatal factor’ in the crash.”
He said that while human factors contributed to the accident, other events leading up to fatal flight made the event “probable, or perhaps inevitable.”
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“It is clear that there were deficiencies in the V-22’s development and engineering and safety programs that were corrected only after the crash — and these deficiencies likely contributed to the accident and its fatal outcome. I therefore conclude it is impossible to point to a single ‘fatal factor’ that caused this crash,” Work wrote, according to the report.
Following the tragic accident during a night combat test flight, a Marine investigation found that a “combination of human factors” — interpreted as pilot error — was the primary cause of the crash.
At the time, the V-22 — manufactured by Fort Worth-based Bell Helicopter and Boeing — was a program under fire. In development since 1981, at a cost approaching $15 billion, pressure was mounting for the military to move forward with operational testing of the novel tilt-rotor aircraft, which could take off like a helicopter and fly like an airplane.
But the aircraft was still in the experimental phase, and pilots were struggling to understand how it reacted in certain situations, such as high-speed descents.
According to Star-Telegram reports, the V-22 piloted by Brow and Gruber made a steep descent that night before rolling uncontrollably to the right and slamming into the ground upside down.
In 2011, Lt. Col. James Schafer, who was piloting another V-22 in the test flight operation that night, said the accident was the result of too much pressure from the Marines and others who were trying to get the Osprey into production.
“The program was pushed too hard,” Schafer told the Star-Telegram. “The best Marine Corps pilots we had became overwhelmed with the push.”
The V-22 program survived. Bell-Boeing went on to deliver some 230 V-22s, assembled in Amarillo, to the U.S. military. It has been deployed in Afghanistan and elsewhere.