USAF helicopter crash: Father's 'not pilot error' relief

Afton Ponce, Christopher Stover, Dale Matthews, Sean Ruane Image copyright USAF
Image caption Staff Sgt Afton Ponce, Capt Christopher Stover, Technical Sgt Dale Matthews and Capt Sean Ruane all died

The father of a pilot who died when a USAF helicopter crashed after being hit by a flock of geese, said it was "very comforting" to know the accident was "not down to pilot error".

Rick Stover's son, Capt Christopher Stover, died with Capt Sean Ruane, Tech Sgt Dale Mathews and Staff Sgt Afton Ponce near Cley, Norfolk, in January.

An investigation confirmed the crash was caused by "multiple bird strikes".

Norfolk Wildlife Trust said it wanted to extend a low-flying ban in the area.

The USAF personnel were on a training mission in an HH-60G Pave Hawk, part of 48th Fighter Wing based at RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk.

Their helicopter was flying at 110ft (33m) above ground level at a speed of about 110 knots (126mph) just before the crash.

Image caption The investigation was initially hampered by the fact the helicopter was carrying munitions

The Air Accident Investigation Branch report into the accident concluded: "A flock of geese took flight from Cley Marshes, likely startled by the noise of the approaching helicopters, and struck the (helicopter).

"At least three geese penetrated the windscreen."

The impact "rendered" three crew members unconscious, it said.

The report confirmed the pilot had "followed the available guidance on bird hazards in the UK".

Image copyright PA
Image caption The risk of bird strikes in the area was assessed as 'low'

Mr Stover said: "As parents of a flyer, you're always fearful when a plane goes down.

"You hear a lot of these pilot error parents of a pilot you're always thinking did his actions cause this to happen, and then they lose the entire crew because of his actions or lack of actions.

"The report definitely shows that it wasn't a pilot issue, it wasn't pilot error," he said.

"That part is very comforting, knowing that was the case."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption A second helicopter from RAF Lakenheath was sent to the marshes to try to assist

There is a ban on low-flying aircraft over the Cley nature reserve between April and September but not the rest of the year.

Head of nature reserves at Norfolk Wildlife Trust, Kevin Hart said: "Low-flying aircraft cause a disturbance to wildlife and although there is a restriction on low flying enforced for the bird breeding period, there is currently no restriction through the autumn and winter period.

"Norfolk Wildlife Trust will continue to seek a year-round restriction on any low-flying aircraft, to minimise the disturbance to wildlife at Cley Marshes."

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