A UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter was making its final approach to Huntsville International Airport Feb. 15 when the crew transitioned from visual flight conditions above clouds to instrument flight inside the clouds and emerged from the bottom of the cloud layer in an “unrecoverable flight attitude,” according to an Army safety investigation report.
“The crew was unable to recover the aircraft before impacting the ground,” states the mishap summary on the crash near Harvest that killed two Tennessee National Guardsmen.
A safety investigation board was appointed after the crash to gather and evaluate evidence, determine casual and contributing factors and prepare findings and recommendations to prevent further accidents.
The portion of the report in which the board gave its conclusion on the cause of the mishap and the rationale for the conclusion, is redacted.
According to the report, the aircraft was making its final radar-vectored approach into the airport by turning left and descending through a low cloud ceiling, which was about 1,300 feet above mean sea level, requiring an instrument approach by the crew.
The crash involved a Tennessee Army National Guard UH-60L stationed out of Joint Base Berry Field Tennessee. Both occupants of the aircraft received fatal injuries, the report shows.
The Guardsmen killed in the crash, whose identities were confirmed by Brig. Gen. Warner Ross, Tennessee’s adjutant general, were Chief Warrant Officer 3 Daniel Wadham of Joelton, Tennessee, who had 15 years of service, and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Danny Randolph of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, who had 13 years of service.
Ross spoke at the Madison County 911 Center in May when the Tennessee Army National Guard recognized and thanked area first responders, including several organizations at Redstone Arsenal, for their efforts in response to the crash. The aircraft was relocated after the crash to a secured hangar at Redstone.
According to the safety investigation report, the aircraft crew reported for a scheduled training flight Feb. 15 at 5:30 a.m. at Army Aviation Support Facility #1 at Joint Base Berry Field in Nashville and conducted final pre-mission planning and aircraft preflight. During the preflight, no discrepancies were reported to maintenance, the report says.
The pilot in command was Wadham and the pilot was Randolph, according to the report.
The training mission was briefed as low risk by the Mission Briefing Office over the phone and approved by the state aviation officer via verbal order to the commanding officer.
The crew reported departure from AASF #1 at 7:21 a.m. to flight operations and, after refueling at their first scheduled stop at Huntsville International Airport, the crew departed at 8:41 a.m. At 10:36 that morning, the crew arrived at Enterprise Municipal Airport and after about three hours of ground time, the crew departed at 1:35 p.m. to return to AASF #1.
At 2:34 p.m., the crew reported being 50 nautical miles south of Huntsville International Airport, where they intended to refuel before the final leg of the flight.
Upon entering Huntsville approach control airspace, the crew requested and was approved for radar vectors for an Instrument Landing System runway. At 2:57 p.m., the crew was instructed to descend from 4,000 feet to 3,000 feet Mean Sea Level by Huntsville approach control.
At 2:58 p.m., while in the descent to 3,000 feet MSL, Huntsville approach control instructed the crew to turn left to 270 degrees. Shortly after these instructions from Huntsville approach control, a low altitude warning was automatically triggered on approach control’s display, the report shows.
Despite multiple attempts to contact the aircraft, radio contact could not be reestablished by approach control.
The aircraft hit the ground in the median between the northbound and southbound lanes of Alabama 53, near the intersection of Burwell Road, 11.85 nautical miles north of Huntsville International Airport.
At 2:59 p.m., the crash was reported to 911, and the Madison County Fire Department responded at 3:01 p.m. to the site. At 3:02, the first Alabama state trooper arrived at the site to secure the scene. At 3:12, the fire department had extinguished the post-crash fire. Flight operations at AASF #1 was notified of the crash at 3:28 and initiated the unit’s pre-accident plan.
The first personnel from the AASF #1 arrived at the site at 6:40 and at 7:20 the Madison County coroner’s office removed the crew’s remains to its facility. The site was secured by Tennessee Army National Guard personnel at about 7:40.
Editor’s note: The Redstone Rocket obtained the releasable portions of the Army safety investigation report on the crash of a UH-60 Black Hawk, which killed two service members and took place on Highway 53 in Harvest earlier this year through a Freedom of Information Act request. The report was received Aug. 28.
Brig. Gen. Jonathan Byrom, commander of the Army Combat Readiness Center, headquartered at Fort Novosel, said in a letter to the Redstone Rocket that “in an effort to maintain and continue to increase the effectiveness of the Army’s Accident Prevention Program, certain portions of the safety report are closely protected and exempt from disclosure.”
The purpose of the exemption, he said in the letter, is “so individuals involved in the accident and accident investigation process may freely and openly provide uninhibited opinions and recommendations in order to ensure that all safety factors are considered and fully evaluated, which helps the Army prevent future accidents.”
These materials are exempt from mandatory release under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, according to Byrom.