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Weather, Human Factors Contributed To February Blackhawk Crash

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Troy Oppie/BSPR
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Preliminary information from the investigation into the February 2 crash of an Idaho Army National Guard UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter shows inclimate weather and human factors contributed to the incident which killed all three pilots on board.

“As the crew was returning to Boise, the weather rapidly deteriorated,” said Idaho Army National Guard Col. Christopher Burt.

A fast-moving storm arrived in the Treasure Valley that evening bringing fog, snow and windy conditions. Feb. 3, staff at the National Weather Service confirmed radar showed visibility above the valley floor at the time of the crash would have been minimal.

“As a result, the crew lost visual references to the surrounding mountainous terrain.”

Col. Burt explained what happens when the ability to fly visually is compromised on short notice, a situation called inadvertent entry into Instrument Meteorological Conditions, sometimes called IIMC.

“This emergency requires crews to transition from relying primarily on their visual references outside the aircraft to relying solely on the instruments inside the aircraft.”

That procedure takes between 20-40 seconds in simulation training conducted every six months, according to Lt. Col. Nicole Washington, Commander of the 183rd Aviation Regiment stationed at Gowen Field.

Officials say the Blackhawk crashed just 14 seconds after the transition to IIMC was initiated. The aircraft was traveling between 130-200 feet above mountain terrain, with a speed between 35-80 knots, about 40-92 mile per hour. Washington said greater airspeed helps maintain control of the helicopter.

At the controls for the fatal training mission was Chief Warrant Officer 3 Matthew Peltzer. His instructor and commanding pilot for the flight was CW3 Geoff Laubhan, who assumed control of the aircraft when CW3 Peltzer lost visual reference, a standard procedure. Also killed in the crash was CW4 Jesse Anderson, who was on board as standardization pilot evaluating Laubhan.

Helicopter operations at Gowen Field are being phased back in after a pause following the crash. Lt. Col Washington said nighttime training remains on hold, but a training mission will be active this weekend and the 183rd has resumed its search and rescue duties if called on. She said the entire training process is being reevaluated following the crash.

“If there's anything that we can take from this as a learning mechanism, it will be as leadership, and as instructor pilots, as standardization pilots, as an aviation community, [to] look for ways to better train our air crews to decrease the amount of reaction time and increase the survivability from such an instance,” she said.

Col. Burt said mechanical or maintenance failures were ruled out as a cause of the crash.

Officials stressed that preliminary information could change as the full investigation is completed in coming months. Nationwide, the crash was the fourth since August 2019 involving National Guard Blackhawk helicopters.

Follow Troy Oppie on Twitter @GoodBadOppie for more local news.

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