Coast Guard commander blames co-pilot in 2010 helicopter crash

Becky BohrerAssociated Press

JUNEAU -- The actions of the lone survivor of the 2010 Coast Guard helicopter crash off the Washington coast directly contributed to the deaths of his colleagues and the destruction of the aircraft, according to the Coast Guard's commander in Alaska, Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo.

Ostebo, in administrative remarks for Lt. Lance Leone's personnel file, said Leone's failure to perform his required duties directly contributed to the accident. A copy of the remarks was obtained by The Associated Press.

This comes less than two weeks after the Coast Guard dismissed negligent homicide and other charges against Leone in connection with the crash.

The potential for administrative action -- like having remarks entered into Leone's personnel file -- was known at the time of the dismissal. Ostebo's report does not detail any possible punishment; it merely says that Leone is to adhere to all applicable laws, regulations and policies and that any "additional violations can lead to further administrative actions and/or military justice action."

Leone refused to sign the report, on advice of counsel.

He was the co-pilot of an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter flying from Astoria, Ore., to the crew's base in Sitka, when it hit an unmarked span of low-hanging wires and crashed off the Washington coast. Killed in the crash were pilot Sean Krueger, of Connecticut, and crewmen Brett Banks, of Wyoming, and Adam C. Hoke, of Montana.

Leone, who has earned Coast Guard awards and accolades, had recovered from his injuries and been cleared for flight re-training when he was charged last year with negligent homicide, dereliction of duty and destruction of government property.

He was accused of not actively navigating or challenging Krueger's decision to drop in altitude seconds before the helicopter hit a 1,900-foot span of wires and crashed.

An investigating officer, who presided over a three-day military hearing in December, recommended to Ostebo that the charges be dropped.

In Ostebo's administrative remarks, he states that Leone at some point during the flight, "entered a course and heading into the onboard navigation system that had the aircraft fly directly toward a charted navigational hazard." He said Leone did not warn Krueger of the hazard he'd "directed the aircraft toward."

He does not specify that hazard but the report then goes into the last seconds of the flight, just before the wires were struck.

"As the co-pilot, your duties included serving as the safety pilot and ensuring the safe navigation of the aircraft," Ostebo said near the beginning of his remarks. "Your failure to perform your required duties directly contributed to the crash of the aircraft and the deaths of the crew."

Leone's civilian attorney John Smith, in an email Sunday, said this "is a sad day for the CG and Coast Guard aviation." CG refers to Coast Guard.

Smith said Ostebo's "failure to acknowledge the CG's failure to properly mark, inspect and maintain the wires, and its failure to act on reports of the unsafe condition from its own senior (non-commissioned officers), exposes the action against Lt. Leone as mere scapegoating."

A message seeking comment was left with the Coast Guard Sunday.

Associated Press