The U.S. Army has ordered an aviation stand-down following the latest in a series of deadly helicopter crashes that, since March, have killed 12 soldiers.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville ordered a 24-hour stand down for all aerial operations except critical missions, according to an Army statement released on April 29.
“The move grounds all Army aviators, except those participating in critical missions, until they complete the required training,” the statement reads.
The order calls for all active-duty units to be subjected to the 24-hour stand down at some point next week, while the Army National Guard and Reserve units will have until May 31 to carry it out.
McConville, himself an aviator, said the move is key to ensuring the safety of service members.
“The safety of our aviators is our top priority, and this stand down is an important step to make certain we are doing everything possible to prevent accidents and protect our personnel,” McConville said in his order.
“During this stand down, we will focus on safety and training protocols to ensure our pilots and crews have the knowledge, training and awareness to safely complete their assigned mission,” he added.
The Army will review risk management processes during the stand down, as well as its aviation maintenance training program, and aircrew training standardization and management.
The flight-mission briefing process will also be assessed, which will include a focus on crew selection, flight planning, and risk mitigation, among other components.
The move follows an incident on Thursday in which two AH-64 Apache helicopters crashed near Healy, Alaska, killing three soldiers.
The latest crash followed a March 29 collision between two HH-60 Blackhawk helicopters near Fort Cambell, Kentucky, killing all nine soldiers onboard.
“While both incidents remain under investigation, there is no indication of any pattern between the two mishaps,” the Army said in Friday’s statement.
“We are deeply saddened by those we have lost,” McConville said. “It is their loss that makes it all the more important we review our safety procedures and training protocols, and ensure we are training and operating at the highest levels of safety and proficiency.”
Thursday’s incident is the third involving military helicopters in the last three months.
Three soldiers were killed and one was injured when two AH-64 Apache helicopters crashed on Thursday near Healy, which is around 250 miles north of Anchorage.
The soldiers were from the 1st Attack Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment at Fort Wainwright, and they were returning from a training mission when the collision occurred.
“The helicopters were returning from a training mission when they collided in flight,” the Army said in a statement.
Two soldiers died at the crash site, while the third died on the way to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital. The injured soldier is receiving treatment at the same hospital.
Nine soldiers were killed on March 29 when two U.S. Army HH-60 Black Hawk medical evacuation helicopters crashed during a routine training mission in Kentucky.
The helicopters were from the 101st Airborne Division, the Army’s only air assault division.
“I would like to express our deepest sympathies to the families of our fallen soldiers,” Brig. Gen. John Lubas, the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) deputy commander, told reporters at the time.
The crash took place about 25 miles northwest of Fort Campbell, a military base on the border between Kentucky and Tennessee.
“We are blessed to live in the freest country in the history of planet Earth,” Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said during a March 30 news conference. “But we must remember that that freedom relies on those who are willing to serve, some of which pay the ultimate price.”
In February, an Apache helicopter rolled after takeoff from Talkeetna, Alaska, injuring two soldiers.
The aircraft was one of four traveling to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage from Fort Wainwright.
The pilot and co-pilot were taken to receive medical attention and were later discharged.
The helicopter was traveling with three others from the 25th Attack Battalion stationed at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, as part of a training exercise.
Caden Pearson contributed to this report.