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5 injured in Osprey crash in Florida Panhandle

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Florida (AP) - All five airmen aboard an Air Force CV-22 Osprey were hospitalized after the tilt-rotor aircraft with a checkered safety record crashed in the Florida Panhandle, but none of the injuries were life-threatening, military officials said Thursday.

The Osprey, which can take off and land like a helicopter but has wings for level flight, went down Wednesday shortly before sunset in a remote area of Eglin Air Force Base's sprawling reservation north of Navarre, said Airman 1st Class Michelle Vickers at nearby Hurlburt Field, where the Air Force Special Operations Command is headquartered.

Col. Jim Slife, commander of Hurlburt's 1st Special Operations Wing, said his unit's efforts are focused on supporting its injured airmen and their families.

"This particular mission was a gunnery training mission, so it was a two aircraft formation out performing gunnery," Slife said at a news conference. "When the lead aircraft turned around in the gun pattern, they did not see their wingman behind them so they started a brief search and found they had crashed right there on the range."

The aircraft was found upside down and caught fire but did not burn entirely, the Northwest Florida Daily News of Fort Walton Beach reported. The aircraft is one of 25 Ospreys in the Air Force Special Operations Command.

"Some of the individuals who were injured were airlifted out, but others were taken out by ambulance," Vickers said.

Maj. Brian Luce, one of the pilots, and Tech. Sgt. Christopher Dawson, a flight engineer, were listed in stable condition at Eglin's hospital.

Capt. Brett Cassidy, the second pilot, and Tech. Sgt. Edilberto Malave, a flight engineer, also were in stable condition at Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola. Staff Sgt. Sean McMahon, a flight engineer, was in guarded condition at Sacred Heart.

The Eglin reservation covers 724 square miles, about two-thirds the size of Rhode Island. It is mostly forest but also includes swamps, streams, clearings and remote airfields.

An Air Force board will investigate to determine the cause of the crash, which happened just two months after a Marine Corps version of the aircraft, an MV-22 Osprey, went down during a training exercise in Morocco. Two Marines were killed and two others severely injured in that crash.

Earlier this month, the military put plans on hold for briefly deploying Marine Ospreys to a city in Japan after local officials objected due to the aircraft's safety record.

An Air Force version was the first Osprey to crash in Afghanistan in April 2010, killing three service members and a civilian contractor. Ospreys went into service with the Marines and Air Force in 2006. The Marines began using them in Iraq the following year.

The Osprey initially was developed for the Marines to replace transport helicopters. It can carry 24 troops and fly twice as fast as comparable assault helicopters while retaining the ability to hover. Twin engines with large, 38-foot diameter propellers mounted on the wing tips tilt up for taking off and landing. Each aircraft is priced at about $70 million.

The Air Force version is equipped with a missile defense system, terrain-following radar, a forward-looking infrared sensor and other electronic gear that enable it to avoid detection and defend itself on special operations missions over enemy territory.

The Osprey was nearly canceled several times during its lengthy development due to cost overruns and safety questions.

Nineteen Marines were killed in 2000 when an Osprey crashed during a training exercise in Arizona. Another MV-22 crashed in North Carolina, killing four Marines, in December of that year.

When former Vice President Dick Cheney was defense secretary, he tried to kill the program in 1989, saying the aircraft wasn't needed, but the Marines persuaded Congress to keep it going.

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Information from: Northwest Florida Daily News, www.nwfdailynews.com

 

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