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All U.S. Navy aircraft grounded for safety exercise

DAVID C. HENLEY
Nevada Appeal News Service
Kim Lamb/LVN Photo
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FALLON – The skies over Churchill County – over the world – will be devoid of U.S Navy aircraft for four hours today during a Navy-wide safety review brought about by recent crashes. Since October, nine Navy aircraft were destroyed and 10 naval aviators have been killed.

Called by the Navy a “safety stand down,” the grounding will affect all of the approximate 40 airplanes and helicopters at Naval Air Station Fallon and as well as 3,800 Navy aircraft and thousands of naval personnel stationed around the world.

Today’s stand down is the first since September 1997 and will last approximately four hours. Pilots and aircrew members will be required to undergo safety procedure and operational risk management reviews while the aircraft are down, according to NAS Fallon public affairs officer Zip Upham.

The desired effect of the stand down is to identify risks in Navy units and then to mitigate them, said Vice Admiral Jim Zortman, commander, Naval air forces.

“I’m directing this stand down in the wake of a series of aviation mishaps that have occurred over the past two months. While no single factor can be attributed to these incidents, it’s important that we stop our daily training and thoroughly review our procedures and the risks of the environment in which we operate.”

Included among the NAS Fallon aircraft to be grounded are the four UH-1 “Huey” helicopters operated by the base’s search and rescue teams, the 17 F-5 “Tiger” aircraft flown by members of the “Fighting Saints” VFC-13 squadron, and all other assigned and transient aircraft.

During the stand down, the search and rescue helicopters will be released for flights if emergencies occur, Upham said.

Since the beginning of fiscal year 2006, the Navy has experienced nine “alpha” mishaps. By this date in 2005, the Navy experienced eight. An alpha mishap is described as a loss of aircraft, or greater than $1 million in damage, or a loss of life, or a permanent disability.

In the last six weeks, three Navy aircraft were destroyed in crashes that took the lives of two.

On Jan. 26, an instructor and a student pilot were killed when their T-34C “Turbo Mentor” training plane crashed near a runway at NAS Corpus Christi, Texas.

The air station, where the pilots took off from, is home to the U.S. Naval Air Training Command which oversees pilot training for the Navy, U.S. Marines and U.S. Coast Guard.

On Feb. 5, a F/A-18 “Hornet” pilot ejected safely before his plane crashed into the water near NAS Key West in Florida. The pilot, who was uninjured, said the aircraft had some sort of engine malfunction.

NAS Key West provides air combat training for pilots who train for aerial combat missions in Iraq and elsewhere.

On March 3, an EA-6B “Prowler” jet assigned to Washington state crashed in the remote northeastern corner of Oregon during a routine training mission.

All four crew members ejected safely, although one suffered a broken leg and the others cuts and bruises. The electronic warfare “Prowler” was flying low over rugged terrain and fell to earth north of Pendleton near the Oregon-Washington border.