A U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey crashed off the eastern coast of Australia early Saturday morning, NBC News reports. The Osprey was carrying 26 Marines and 23 were recovered safely. The Marine Corps said in a statement that a search for the three missing Marines was suspended, indicating that the three were likely killed during the crash.
The crash is the third Osprey crash in a year and the latest incident that confirms the aircraft’s dangerous and unreliable reputation. Last December, five troops were rescued safely when their Osprey crashed off the coast of Okinawa, Japan. The crash deepened local residents’ fears about the aircraft’s questionable safety record. A month later, a U.S. Navy Seal was killed and three others were injured when an Osprey made a “hard landing” during a mission in Yemen, according to The Aviationist. The aircraft, which is also known as “The Widowmaker,” is a hybrid tilt-rotor aircraft that was designed to function as both an airplane and a helicopter.
Saturday’s crash occurred as the aircraft was attempting to land on the USS Green Bay aircraft carrier. The crash also damaged the aircraft carrier, leaving it inoperable. The Osprey was assigned to the Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 265 of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, which is based at Camp Butler in Okinawa, Japan. It had launched from the USS Bonhomme Richard and was performing regularly-scheduled operations at the time of the crash. The cause of the crash is still under investigation.
The latest incident involving yet another Japan-based Marine Corps Osprey has prompted Itsunori Onodera, Japan’s newly-appointed Defense Minister, to ask the U.S. to stop flying the V-22 in Japan, according to Military.com. In December, the U.S. military grounded the entire fleet of V-22s after a similar request by Tomomi Inada, Itsunori’s predecessor. The military is once again contemplating temporarily grounding the fleet.
The aircraft has also been involved in other tragic crashes. For example, a fatal Osprey crash in 2015 left two Marines, 21-year-old Lance Cpl. Matthew Determan and 24-year-old Cpl. Joshua Barron, dead. The Beasley Allen Law Firm and Honolulu, Hawaii lawyer, Melvin Y. Agena, are representing Determan’s family in a wrongful death lawsuit.
The Jere Beasley Report explains that the aircraft’s rotor blades create a more powerful downwash than other rotorcraft. The blades are shorter than optimal so that the Osprey can land on an aircraft carrier. They are also twisted more than a typical helicopter’s blades so that they can function better when flying as an airplane. However, these design flaws can increase the risk of a phenomenon known as the vortex ring state, making the aircraft lose altitude too quickly and preventing it from landing safely. Defects in the V22 engine air filtration system prevent it from operating and landing safely in dusty environments where other transport aircraft (equipped with better and safer filtration systems) regularly operate. Although the military implemented revisions to the aircraft to increase its safety, the growing number of fatal crashes show the design – essentially a compromise between two aircraft that operate completely differently – does not work.
Mike Andrews, a lawyer in our firm’s Personal Injury & Products Liability Section, handles aviation litigation including several cases involving the Osprey. You can contact him at 800-898-2034 or Mike.Andrews@beasleyallen.com.
U.S. Marine Corps
Jere Beasley Report (January 2017) – Another U.S. Marine Corps V-22 Osprey Crash Temporarily Grounds Aircraft Stationed In Japan And Reignites Safety Concerns, page 26
Jere Beasley Report (March 2017) – U.S. Military Hangs On To Osprey-Style, Tilt-Rotor Design For Next-Generation Aircraft, 22-23