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News / Nation & World

Congress sought Osprey crash and safety documents from the Pentagon last year. It’s still waiting

By TARA COPP, Associated Press
Published: June 12, 2024, 8:20am

WASHINGTON (AP) — A House Oversight Committee panel that is investigating the safety and oversight of the V-22 Osprey aircraft following a string of fatal crashes has not received critical data or accident reports that its members requested months ago, two committee staffers told The Associated Press.

The aircraft, subject of a hearing Wednesday, has faced safety, maintenance and reliability issues for decades, with 62 service members and civilians killed in 12 Osprey accidents since 1992. The most recent was a crash off the coast of Japan in November that killed eight U.S. service members and led the military to ground the entire fleet. The aircraft, which can fly long distances fast like an airplane but land like a helicopter, began returning to service in March with flight restrictions.

Among the information that the House Oversight Committee’s Subcommittee on National Security, the Border and Foreign Affairs has requested but has yet to receive is the wear and replacement rates on Osprey proprotor gearboxes, a component that was a factor in the 2023 crash off Japan.

Committee members also have asked for internal crash reports that the military conducts with surviving air and ground crews and witnesses. The reports, known as safety investigation board reports, aren’t available to the public and cannot be used to punish a crew — they are in place to identify and quickly share any safety issues among the fleet.

To date, the staffers said they had received about 3,500 pages of documents, but information was redacted, leaving them unable to conduct oversight. The committee staffers spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.

The staffers said the documents they have reviewed left them concerned about whether Pentagon leadership has maintained a close watch on the Osprey program. Some of the problems with the aircraft date back a decade or more but still haven’t been fixed.

After mechanical and material failures led to an Osprey crash in California in 2022 that killed five Marines, the military said it had instituted changes to prevent the issue from happening again.

“However, the recent fatal crash and ongoing investigations suggest that more transparency and rigorous testing is needed to verify these claims,” U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman, a Wisconsin Republican who chairs the committee, said in a statement to the AP ahead of the hearing Wednesday.

Testifying before lawmakers will be Vice Admiral Carl Chebi, head of the U.S. Naval Air Systems Command, which is responsible for the Osprey program across the military.

The committee is concerned about how the Pentagon will be able to sustain the Osprey program long term. Parts are wearing out faster than anticipated, but recent operations and maintenance budget requests by the Pentagon for the aircraft have been cut, Grothman said.

The Marine Corps is planning on using the Osprey through 2050, while Air Force Special Operations Command has already begun to talk publicly about finding another type of aircraft to conduct missions.

Osprey producers Bell Flight, the Boeing Co. and Rolls-Royce, which supplies the engines, are facing a new lawsuit from families of the five Marines killed in the 2022 California crash. The lawsuit alleges that the companies did not address known parts failures or safety issues that were a factor in the crash.

Boeing and Bell have declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation.

The most recent crash last year in Japan was the fourth in two years which killed a total of 20 service members. The Air Force quickly identified that a material problem with the aircraft was to blame for last year’s crash, and within a week, the entire Osprey fleet — hundreds of aircraft across the Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force — were grounded.

The staffers said the Pentagon has not provided details on what the restrictions are as the aircraft returns to operations.

The V-22 Osprey is loved by pilots because of its speed and ability to land on target like a helicopter. Besides the deadly crashes, there have been additional accidents in which the aircraft were destroyed and service members were injured, but all survived.