Col. Schneider: 'I would have put my own children to fly with this pilot'

'Spatial disorientation' in both pilots caused deadly Black Hawk crash

(WAFB) - It was a deadly Black Hawk crash on March 10 off the coast of Florida that killed four Hammond-based National Guardsmen and seven marines.

The Irish Times obtained the crash investigation which said, "The board determined that the direct cause of this accident was spatial disorientation of both pilots which caused them to lose control of the aircraft."

"Spatial disorientation is when you get into an environment that's degraded to where you can no longer tell what's up, what's down, what's left and what's right. You're completely disoriented," said Louisiana National Guard's Col. Pete Schneider.

Chief Warrant Officer 4 George Wayne Griffin Jr. was a seasoned aviator with more than 6,112 hours of experience in flight time. His co-pilot, Chief Warrant Officer 4 David Strother with 2,486 flight hours. Also onboard, Staff Sgt. Lance Bergeron with 1,369 hours. The three had served tours overseas and helped Louisiana through several disasters including hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the BP Oil Spill. The fourth guardsman killed was Staff Sgt. Thomas Florich with 129 hours in flight time.

"It is a tragic loss for this organization, for their families and for the country. These were dedicated men committed to the defense of this country," said Col. Schneider. "I would have put my own children to fly with this pilot. That's how good he was, he and Chief Strother."

The mission was called "Operation Raven," a night-time training mission where the choppers carried marines to a certain point, where they would then rope down into boats.

Col. Schneider said their training teaches them when they're spatially disoriented, they should switch to instruments or even auto-pilot. Both pilots tried to engage auto-pilot, but it failed.

According to the report, Griffin had been advised that the weather conditions were poor, but decided to fly anyway.

The report included a transcription between those on board:

Griffin: "Gee, it's dark as "explicative." That don't help none."

Bergeron: "Wow, it's really dark"

Griffin: "We're gonna take it real slow guys."

Bergeron: "Probably hard to find them boats."

The report includes written orders saying the minimum requirements to fly were to stay no lower than 1,000 feet with at least three miles visibility. However, when they flew, there was no visibility.

Griffin: "There's some trees out there, on my left door…watch out for those."

Strother: "We got poles right under those trees okay"

Griffin: "Yeah, it's too dark to see the water"

Florich: "I can't see anything outright"

"We know through these pilots how dedicated they were to their mission, to their organization, to training the marines and that it was in their opinion, that we assumed they would be able to perform this mission," said Col Schneider.

When asked if the pilot disregarded the written order, Col Schneider said, "Yes they did."

At 8:21 p.m., just five minutes after they took off, they crashed at a speed of 180 mph, according to Col. Schneider.

The last conversations in the final seconds were also recorded.

Griffin: "You take the controls Dave"

Strother: "I got it"

Griffin: "Watch the, watch the collective Dave"

Strother: "Okay, I'm flyin'"

Griffin: "Watch the collective Dave"

Strother: "Alright"

Strother: "G-Wayne, engage auto-pilot"

Griffin: "I got…yeah"

Strother: "Watch out, we're in a bad right turn"

Griffin: "Yep"

Strother: "G-Wayne, look down"

Strother: "Watch your altitude, altitude G-Wayne altitude, level"

Strother: : "Level"

Strother: "Level"

Strother: "Climb, climb"


"There were no survivors and that the crew didn't even realize they were hitting the water. That's how fast they died," said Col. Schneider.

Col. Schneider said despite the findings, the families are sticking together and remembering their heroes who dedicated their lives to serving our country.

A second Black Hawk that took off as part of the training mission, returned to base safely.

Some changes were made after the accident including making sure there is someone on the ground before takeoff to monitor the weather, training the pilots against the hazards and working with Eglin Air Force Base.

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