Shortly after take-off, one of the helicopters decided to turn back due to the thick fog that was just off the shore. The remaining helicopter kept moving forward despite the dark conditions. That’s when things started to go wrong.
According to the transcript of the audio flight recording, one of the pilots said, “Gee, it’s dark as [expletive]. That don’t help none,” followed by another pilot saying “Yeah, it’s too dark to see the [expletive] water.”
Shortly after the exchange, the helicopter crashed into the water just southwest of the Eglin Air Force Base at 8:21 pm. The accident killed everyone on board, including seven Marines and four Louisiana Guardsmen.
In a joint investigation by the U.S. Special Operations Command and Louisiana Nation Guard, it was found that the cause of the crash was that the pilots, Griffin and Strother, experienced what is called “spatial disorientation,” which is the inability of a person to determine their position in space. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, this is to blame for at least 5 to 10 percent of aviation accidents, most of which are fatal.
In the report from the investigation, the pilots displayed signs of spatial disorientation not long after flying over the water and “disobeyed a direct order” by choosing to fly in low visibility weather.
It said, “The flight data recorder and the cockpit communications transcripts indicate increasingly erratic flight control inputs and anxious verbal exchanges as both pilots tried, yet failed, to gain control of the aircraft. Approximately two (2) minutes and five (5) seconds after going over water, MOJO 69 crashed into the water…There was an attempt to engage the autopilot, but the aircraft was outside the required flight parameters and the autopilot failed.”
The investigation found that the helicopter was rapidly climbing and descending, and had inconsistent air speeds in its last moments. Griffin, who was in command on the mission, tried to give Strother control of the aircraft to try and prevent the crash.
According to the report, the cause of death was “impact with the water at an airspeed and angle that was not survivable.”
MARSOC’s commander Maj. Gen. Joseph Osterman issued a statement to The Post that the investigation was “thorough, complete and comprehensive.”
“We continue to ensure that the families have all available information relative to the accident and that any additional support they need is provided. We are grateful for the tremendous support the families of our fallen have received since the accident occurred,” Osterman added.
According the The Washington Post, attempts to reach the Louisiana Nation Guard for comment were unsuccessful.