MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- Loss of situational awareness by the aircrew and lack of visibility caused the January crash of a Miramar-based KC-130 airplane into the mountains of Pakistan according to the mishap report released June 19.
The investigation revealed that the aircraft was flying approximately 3,000 feet below the safe flight altitude when it crashed into a mountainside while circling for a night landing at the Bardari airfield in Shamsi, Pakistan, on Jan. 9.
Seven Marines from Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 352 died in the crash.
The aircraft, like all Marine Corps KC-130s in theater at the time, was not equipped with night-vision capabilities, flight planning software or a global positioning system. The runway wasn't equipped with radar or navigational aids, only expeditionary lights around the airfield, said Col. William D. Durrett, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing's staff judge advocate, who oversaw the investigation.
"This was a combat operation," he said.
Therefore, the crew relied on internal instruments.
However, the crew was well rested and at the top of their game, all having flown into the landing strip at least once, said Col. Randolph D. Alles, Marine Aircraft Group 11's commanding officer.
"I really don't want to take anything away from them. There was obviously a mistake made there, in a high-demand environment. That does happen in aviation. I'll just leave it at that. They did a great job," Alles said.
"I specifically and unequivocally find that the deaths were not caused by misconduct or willful negligence of any Marine, and that all that perished were in a full duty status serving heroically in defense of the nation," said Maj. Gen. Charles F. Bolden Jr., the commanding general of 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, in his official statement on the incident.
During a resupply flight mission from Jacobabad, Pakistan, to Shamsi, the KC-130 crew requested to land on a runway normally used for departing flights. The request was denied, and the crash occurred while the plane circled at too low of an altitude for an approach on the runway for incoming flights.
"Any of these adherences to normal, safety standards would have prevented the crash," said Durrett.
Prior to last week's press conference where the mishap report was publicly released, Lt. Col. Carl T. Parker, commanding officer of VFMA-352, and his staff hand-delivered the findings to the deceased Marines' families.
"Their reputations, every last one of them, all seven of them, were stellar," Parker said of his Marines. "The findings of this investigation is a bitter pill to swallow."
"Our hearts really go out to the families," said Alles. "Throughout this whole Enduring Freedom operation, all of our service members have made great sacrifices to take the fight to the enemy a long way from America's shores so it doesn't involve us here locally."
Marines who perished are: Capt. Matthew W. Bancroft, Capt. Daniel G. McCollum, Gunnery Sgt. Stephen L. Bryson, Staff Sgt. Scott N. Germosen, Sgt. Nathan P. Hays, Sgt. Jeannette L. Winters and Lance Cpl. Bryan P. Bertrand.