The former commanding officer of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 463 was relieved of his duties just three days before the deadly helicopter crash that claimed the lives of 12 Marines.
Officials are making it clear: “Lt. Col. Edward Pavelka did not commit misconduct.” However, they do say the head of the squadron — who had only been in the position for 11 months — was “not able to maintain material readiness standards… for optimal use of manpower, material, facilities and funding.”
A statement issued by the Marine Corps, said in part that Brig. Gen. Russell Sanborn, the commanding general of 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, “lost confidence in Pavelka’s ability to lead the squadron.”
Multiple sources confirmed that Pavelka was relieved of command on Jan 11th. Three days later, two CH-53E helicopters disappeared over the Pacific Ocean, during a nighttime training mission, about two miles north of Hawaii’s Oahu island.
There were six Marines aboard each aircraft and they were reportedly training with their night vision equipment and conducting simulated scenarios to practice loading troops and moving them. The CH-53 heavy-lift helicopter is “always in great demand” by operational commanders around the globe.
First Lt. Courtney Caimona said the instructor pilots “were fully qualified as crew chiefs and pilots in their respective roles,” but it’s not clear who was at the controls when the accident happened. Also still unclear– what brought down the aircraft. Initial reports suggested the helicopters collided over the ocean and exploded. Coast Guard rescuers located four unoccupied life rafts, but after a five day search for survivors, no remains were recovered.
A Marine familiar with the squadron’s problems told the Marine Corps Times that as a whole, the squadron was “way, way low” on flight time. While the unidentified source said “they were not flying enough,” the Marine declined to say what may have depleted training opportunities.
A Marine Corps Times investigation last September found that aviation-related deaths in the Marine Corps had reached a five-year high. There were at least 19 between January and October. Military leaders have publicly expressed their concerns about maintenance, flight hours and the effect on overall safety — in the “face of deep budget cuts” imposed by Congress.
Meantime, as Pavelka waits for his new assignment, Brig. Gen. Sanborn says he has the “utmost faith and confidence” in his replacement– Lt. Col. Eric Purcell.
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