WASHINGTON, D.C. — From search and rescue missions to medical evacuations, National Guard helicopter units help communities around the country and overseas.
Now, a new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is calling for safety improvements after it uncovered human error was behind the cause of most crashes over roughly the last decade.
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According to the report, Army and Air National Guard reported 298 helicopter accidents from 2012 through 2021.
The findings said 28 National Guard personnel were killed in the accidents.
“These non-combat helicopter accidents fluctuated over time and were mainly due to human errors such as not following training standards, overconfidence, poor communication, and lack of awareness,” the report said.
Among the concerns, the report said the workload and staffing imbalance for the Army and Air National Guard hurt the ability of safety officers to actually focus on safety because they were often saddled with other responsibilities.
“What we heard from them time and time again is that these are part-time duties or they’re sharing that with other responsibilities,” said Cary Russell, a Director in GAO’s Defense Capabilities and Management team. “In fact, many of them were pilots themselves.”
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Pilot inexperience was also flagged as a challenge.
“It’s very difficult for pilots because a lot of them are part-time in the Guard to actually have time to fly the aircraft and that’s compounded by maintenance challenges to keep the aircraft in the air,” said Russell.
The GAO calls for the Defense Department to update safety guidance and better track the status of accident investigations.
“To make sure that the risk management procedures that are in place at the units are evaluated on a regular basis so that they are updated with the most current safety information,” said Russell.
It also calls for the department to address challenges that could hinder pilot training.
In response, the DoD agreed with the recommended changes.
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