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Idaho National Guard release preliminary results for Feb. 2 helicopter crash

| March 5, 2021 11:33 AM

BOISE, Idaho — The Idaho National Guard announced the preliminary results of the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center’s investigation into the Feb. 2 UH-60 Black Hawk mishap that resulted in the death of three Idaho Army National Guard aviators. The Safety Investigation Board, from Fort Rucker, Alabama, found that although weather played a significant role, the primary cause of the accident was the crew’s inability to successfully complete an emergency procedure before impacting the ground.

The crew, consisting of Chief Warrant Officer 4 Jesse Anderson, Chief Warrant Officer 3 George “Geoff” Laubhan and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Matthew Peltzer, was conducting a routine training flight Feb. 2 south of Lucky Peak near Boise. As the crew was returning to Gowen Field, the weather degraded rapidly and they inadvertently lost visual references to the ground and surrounding terrain. As a result, the crew immediately initiated inadvertent instrument meteorological condition procedures, attempting to transition from relying primarily on visual references outside the aircraft to relying solely on the instruments inside the aircraft to maintain control. The crew had only 14 seconds from the time they initiated the procedure to the time the aircraft impacted the ground.

“As helicopter pilots, one of the most difficult and dangerous emergency procedures that we can be exposed to is IIMC,” said Col. Chris Burt, the Idaho Army National Guard’s state aviation officer. “The crew initiated the procedure appropriately while maintaining excellent crew coordination, however, the crew was unable to successfully establish a rate of climb that would allow the aircraft to clear the rising terrain and the ridgeline.”

As a result, the aircraft impacted the mountainside, destroying the aircraft and fatally injuring all crew members.

Prior to entering inadvertent instrument meteorological conditions, Peltzer was at the controls. As soon as he announced that he had lost his visual references, Laubhan immediately assumed control of the aircraft.

“As the Pilot in Command and instructor pilot, this is exactly what we would expect him to do,” Burt said.

The crew had departed Gowen Field at 6:50 p.m. on Feb. 2. The flight would consist of standardization evaluations, night vision goggles training and a 9-Line medevac training scenario. During this flight, Laubhan, in his instructor pilot capacity, was conducting a flight evaluation of Peltzer. Simultaneously, Anderson, was conducting a standardization evaluation of Laubhan. Peltzer was in the right front seat, Laubhan was in the left front seat and Anderson was in the right crewchief station facing out the right side of the aircraft.

After departure, the crew briefly conducted a few aircraft maneuvers at an assault strip located a mile south of Gowen Field. Upon completion at the assault strip, the crew departed for the nap of the earth area, located south of Lucky Peak. During the flight, the crew reported no anomalies with the flight or the aircraft.

At this stage of the investigation, it is determined that there were no mechanical factors that contributed to the accident. The aircraft performed normally and there were no indications that the crew experienced any mechanical issues at any time during the flight. It was also determined that all aircraft inspections and required maintenance were current and that the unit’s maintenance programs and procedures were deemed healthy and fully functional.

As the crew was returning to Gowen Field, the weather rapidly deteriorated with decreased visibility due to fog, increased mountain obscuration and precipitation. As a result, the crew lost visual references to the surrounding mountainous terrain. When the crew lost visual contact with the ground, they immediately transitioned to instrument meteorological conditions. This means that the crew was in the clouds and flying with reference to only the aircraft flight instruments.

“IIMC is a procedure that we brief before each and every flight and we regularly train for in simulated conditions,” Burt said. “When we train in the simulator, almost every flight period includes an IIMC scenario. While that training is valuable, it does not truly replicate the dangers of a real world IIMC emergency. The most effective way to survive an IIMC emergency is simply to not enter that environment in the first place; however, this is not always possible.”

Burt explained that the aviation group conducts a variety of missions to include search and rescue operations, which are seldomly conducted in ideal weather conditions.

“We need to train to a level commensurate with how we’re expected to perform. As an aviation community, we do our best to implement cautions and controls that will provide the most realistic training without increased risk to our crew members. “

The Idaho aviation group had been grounded since Feb. 3, but started flying again last week with a limited flight scheduled. The group has since resumed search and rescue responsibilities within the state.

“The motto of the National Guard is “Always Ready, Always There,” Burt said. “We will honor Jess, Geoff and Matt by continuing with our mission, because we know that is what they would expect us to do.”

Anderson, a Boise resident, was a senior instructor pilot and had served in the Idaho Army National Guard since 2008. He is survived by his wife and four children.

Laubhan, a Boise resident, was an instructor pilot and had served in the Idaho Army National Guard since 2010. He is survived by his wife and two children.

Peltzer, a Nampa resident, was a pilot and had served in the Idaho Army National Guard since 2005. He is survived by his wife and two children.