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Saturday, November 27, 2004

Page: 1A

SOURCE: By Michael Fabey



TODAY: A look at air and ground accidents.

A Savannah Morning News computer analysis of military records for the last 30 years indicates that serious accidents declined after peaking in the mid-'80s.

The U.S. Army continues to be plagued by accidents in the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq, but a Savannah Morning News computer analysis of service accident records dating to 1972 shows that most mishaps happen during peacetime.

The Army Safety Center reports 1,033 accidents involving American-led troops in Afghanistan and Iraq so far - 200 of them fatal.


But there is no proof that being in a war zone has anything to do with the number of mishaps.

Indeed, independent research over the past three and half decades suggests that the opposite is likely true.

"Aircraft age and increased operations tempo are frequently claimed to cause accidents," the Congressional Research Service, or CRS, reported in November 2003, looking at records dating back to the 1950s and including the years of the initial Iraq and Afghanistan operations.

CRS investigates military safety, nuclear arms and other issues and reports its findings to Congress.

"There's never been a correlation shown between accidents and the higher tempo operations like those during a war," Christopher Bolkcom, the CRS expert in national defense who authored the report, said Monday.

Investigators at what is now called the U.S. Government Accountability Office agree with Bolkcom's assessment, reporting in 1996 that studies have never conclusively linked higher rates of wartime military operations with aviation mishaps.

Indeed, a Morning News analysis of Army safety records shows that the largest number of accidents in the service occurred when the United States was not at war - unless you count the cold one.

The Morning News analyzed nearly a million Army safety records from different databases dating back to 1972 and discovered the following:

- Accidents are more dangerous on the ground than in the air, with ground accidents three times more likely to be categorized as major "Class A" accidents than those in the air.

About 90 percent of aviation accidents were very minor, "Class E," while nearly 90 percent of ground accidents were more serious "Class C."

- The worst years for all types of accidents were during the height of the Cold War, during the 1980s.

For the 100,000-plus reported aviation accidents from 1972 to 2004, the worst year was 1980 - accounting for about 5,570. In quick succession, accounting for just a bit less, were the years 1986, 1981, 1987, 1983, 1985, 1984 and 1988.

Of the 340,000-plus reported ground accidents, 1985 was the worst year, accounting for about 21,500. That was followed by 1982, 1981 and 1984, trailed by a mixture of years from the 1970s and 1980s.

"One thing you have to keep in mind is that they changed the accounting rules," Bolkcom said.

After the 1980s the Defense Department relaxed the standards for reporting the most serious accidents based, for example, on the cost to repair or replace damaged equipment.

The changes could have reduced the number of reported accidents dramatically, Bolkcom said.

Still, his own analysis of military aviation records suggests that most accidents happen away from combat.

"They appear to be more relaxed back home," he said.

Maybe. But a Congressional Energy and Commerce Committee Oversight and Investigation Subcommittee reported in its 1990 study on Army aviation safety, "Let the Flyer Beware," that Army personnel cuts, disregard of safety problems and misguided decisions on helicopter safety policies led to deaths and disaster in its fleet throughout the 1980s.

Specifically discussing Army safety officers' views on problems in Chinook helicopters, the report said the service's "failure to take aggressive, remedial action in dealing with these problems has served only to compound and perpetuate them. This reactive posture most likely has led to needless loss of lives."

Shortages of maintenance personnel translate into poor maintenance and, ultimately, hazardous flying conditions. Consequently, "all Army helicopters are susceptible to growing risk," the report said.

The report also said aviation personnel and their commanders are "very concerned" that recent Army reorganization has created a serious shortage of people, which translates into poor maintenance and, ultimately, hazardous flying conditions.


In the mid-1980s, the Army also found malfunctions with its T-700 engines, which power the Black Hawk and Apache helicopter fleets, according to the book "Silent Knights, Blowing the Whistle on Military Accidents and their Cover-Ups," by Alan E. Diehl, a former senior Air Force safety scientist.

In an interview earlier this year, Diehl said, "There are problems throughout the Department of Defense when it comes to safety."

The most dangerous country for U.S. troops is the United States, which accounts for roughly two-thirds of the reported accidents. The second worst country is Germany and between the two of them, they cover roughly about 90 percent of all mishaps reported.

South Korea is third.

Many of the accidents over the past few years have involved soldiers returning from leave, in the last few hours of their time off, near their posts, said J.T. Coleman, director of information for the Army Safety Center at Fort Rucker, Ala.


Iraqi operations are often compared to those in Vietnam.

For aviation accidents, that comparison is a favorable one for Iraq. There were 173 aviation mishaps reported in the nearly three years of recent operations of Iraq and Afghanistan. But there were nearly 700 reported accidents in Vietnam, mostly during 1972 and 1973, according to the Morning News computer analysis.

- The worst day for Army aviators was March 23, 1980, when 43 accidents were reported throughout the United States and a few in Germany.

- The worst day for ground accidents, with 210, was March 30, 1982, again with incident reports throughout the United States and a sprinkling in Germany and Korea.

- Most aviation accidents happened at or near the home post or airfield, were slight in nature and - in cases where a cause was cited - were the result of engine, generator or shaft-driven compressor.

The brief narrative descriptions of the accidents contain sundry elements, too many and complicated to analyze well even with a computer. But one problem is cited more than any other: a defective starter or its motor.

- Most ground accidents also happened at or near the home post, and were not serious. Less than 1 percent of them involved an explosive device. The leading location is the Sicily Drop Zone at Fort Bragg, N.C., mentioned more than 500 times.

Fort Stewart ranks near the bottom, with 16 listings

The leading "mission" for ground mishaps: "off duty," over 5,000. Recruiting is second with about half as many, followed by maintenance with about 500. Most list no mission.

Convoy operations - one of the worst missions for accidents in Iraq now - is listed as seventh in the analysis, just behind physical training. Both had slightly more than 300 reported incidents.

In most of the convoy accidents - as well as other ground-related accidents - soldiers simply appeared to be careless.

They misjudged the distance or depths of ditches, or failed to follow procedures for cleaning their weapons or driving in traffic.


Failure to wear seat belts led to more serious injuries in half of the accidents involving Humvees, the Army Safety Center reported earlier this year.

Officers and soldiers simply were not planning and rehearsing convoy missions well enough, Brig. Gen. Smith told the NCO Journal.

In the aviation accidents, pilots had difficulty negotiating dusty takeoffs, quick turns or other maneuvers.

"When focusing on safety," said Bolkcom of CRS, the number one thing is the human factor. Machines are simple, people are complicated."

With that in mind, Fort Rucker's Army Aviation Warfighting Center is now making sure its pilots leave with the training they need. "We're more focused at the lower level of warfighter," Brig. Gen. E.J. Sinclair, the commander of the Aviation Warfighting Center in Fort Rucker, said. "We're doing everything we can to try to mitigate risk. You never compromise safety."

Still, for the first time since Vietnam, pilots and others are training to go directly into a war zone. The risk is greater.

Sinclair added said, "It's more dangerous training because of what's going on."

In and out of the war zone, accidents are bound to continue.


Some unusual accident reports from Iraq

- Soldier was participating in a 10 mile run carrying a 30lb rucksack when he collapsed. SM evacuated to the hospital where he was pronounced dead.

- After performing maintenance a soldier was backing an M88, another soldier walked behind the M88 and was pinned between it and an M1A2 tank. The soldier died at scene.

- Soldier was taking a shower alone, he was found lying on the floor with burn marks, Soldier was pronounced DOA at medical facility. (Apparent electrocution)

- Humvee was hit from behind by a personal vehicle resulting in the Humvee hanging off a bridge, Soldier attempted to get out of the vehicle, fell into the river and drowned.

- Soldier was playing football and began feeling chest pain, and trouble breathing. The soldier was taken to hospital; CPR was performed but unsuccessful.

- Soldier was cleaning his M-4 weapon when it accidentally discharged a round which struck and fatally wounded another soldier.

- Soldier had been assigned latrine cleaning detail at Hadithah Dam, while on break he fell from the wall of the dam into the water, He was fatally injured.

- Soldier was swimming with a piece of hard candy in his mouth and began to choke; He was pulled out of the water, efforts to revive him failed.

- After soldier received a haircut he jumped into the Euphrates River to rinse off, he failed to surface; after a thorough search his body was found the next day.

- Unit was conducting weapons training at an indoor Iraqi small arms range when a bullet ricocheted and a fire ignited, one soldier was fatally injured.

- During a patrol mission tank crew identified a reporter (civilian) to be a combatant and opened fire; civilian sustained fatal injuries.

- Soldier was on a routine mission/convoy to deliver cargo with the temperature well above 130 degrees when he suffered a fatal heat stroke.

- After washing his cloths in a canal, SM jumped into the water, he was observed struggling and was pulled from the water; resuscitation efforts failed.

- After washing his cloths in a canal, soldier jumped into the water, he was observed struggling and was pulled from the water; resuscitation efforts failed.

- Soldier was fatally struck by an M791 APDS-T round; the master power switch of a M2A2 Bradley was turned on and the main gun discharged a round.

- Soldier was fatally wounded by debris generated from an M1A1 tank round fired against a perceived hostile dismount enemy force. (Friendly fire)

- French TV Crew personnel was struck by an M1A1 tank while video-taping resulting in fatal injuries.

- Soldier was thrown from Humvee as it swerved to avoid a stopped personal vehicle, soldier was struck by a another personal vehicle resulting in fatal injuries.

- Soldier sustained fatal head injury while inflating a truck tire. The soldier was struck by the split-ring.


Of 176 class or major accidents in Iraq and Afghanistan:

41 involved overturned vehicles.

15 involved apparent or believed friendly fire incidents.

14 involved the cleaning or otherwise mishandling of weapons.

12 involved heat exhaustion or other injury from physical training or other activities such as (4 each) inflating/changing tires, swimming or electrocution.



U.S. 237,401 86,267

Germany 81,772 10,367

South Korea 8,885 7,276

Panama 3,586 1,374

Saudi Arabia 1,471 1,315