Home » Aviation » Fatal Knighthawk Crash Partially Blamed on Destroyer Skipper, Crew

Fatal Knighthawk Crash Partially Blamed on Destroyer Skipper, Crew

Sailors remove chocks and chains from beneath a MH-60S Knighthawk on USS Blue Ridge (LCC-19) on May 3, 2014. US Navy Photo

Sailors remove chocks and chains from beneath a MH-60S Knighthawk on USS Blue Ridge (LCC-19) on May 3, 2014. US Navy Photo

The Navy is laying partial blame for the September death of two MH-60S Knightwhawk aviators on the skipper and crew of the guided missile destroyer (DDG) the helicopter landed on, according to a U.S. Navy Pacific Fleet mishap report released on Monday.

According to the report, a wall of water hit the helicopter (Indian 617) with Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 6 shortly after it landed on the deck of USS William P. Lawrence (DDG-110) on Sept. 22, 2013.

The water pushed the $35 million helicopter off the deck into the Red Sea resulting in the death of Lt. Cmdr. Landon L. Jones, 35, of Lompoc, Calif. and Chief Warrant Officer Jonathon S. Gibson, 32, of Aurora, Ore.

The report found that William P. Lawrence skipper — Cmdr. Jana Vavasseur — was not in violation of rules and regulations regarding helicopter operations but could have done more to prevent the so-called “Class-A” mishap.

“[Vavasseur] did not do all that should have been done. While she did not exceed published procedures and operating parameters, she failed to accurately evaluate the totality of the combined effects of ship’s speed together with winds, sea state and course,” according to an endorsement of the report signed by commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, Adm. Harry Harris.
“Though several factors contributed to this mishap, the primary cause was the Commanding Officer’s failure to fully account for the combined effects of wave height and starboard quartering seas, exacerbated by maintaining a speed of over 30 knots. The risks induced by a totality of these factors were not warranted.”

On the day of the crash, William P. Lawrence was racing to catch up to the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group (CSG) in U.S. Central Command to relieve an escort ship attached to the carrier.

View MH-60S Accident in a larger map

Vavasseur ordered the ship to travel at speeds of more than 30 knots in high winds and sea. Along the way, the ship recovered Indian 617.

Less than ten minutes after the helicopter had landed on the deck and the helicopter was chocked and chained with rotors spinning, a wall of water came over the starboard side of the ship and knocked off the tail off the helo.

The helicopter broke free of the chains and the still spinning rotor blades gouged the flight deck and the hangar door.

“Without a tail rotor to counter main rotor torque as well as no longer being secured to the flight deck,
the aircraft spun freely on the flight deck,” according to the findings of fact from the report.
“An additional roll to port resulted in Indian 617 going over the side.”

The so-called wall of water was the result of the ship rolling to starboard just as a wave hit the hull of the ship.

“Upon impact with the hull, the water from the wave was squeezed against the hull and redirected upward, creating a thick ‘wall’ of water which the prevailing winds pushed over the flight deck, enveloping Indian 617,” read the report.

The Navy believes Jones and Gibson were incapacitated when the helicopter went over the side, leaving the pair unable to escape. The other three crew members were rescued.

The Navy issued Vavasseur a counseling letter and she turned over command of the ship in December.

Vavasseur — a 1994 U.S. Naval Academy Graduate — currently works at U.S. Surface Forces Command, according to a report in the San Diego Union Tribune.

  • Pete Sikes

    She’ll never command a ship again.


    She should take the money and leave!

  • Brian Pederson

    I had a similar experience aboard USS Boone (FFG-28). The helo sank like a rock but both pilots were rescued.As the IDC assigned, I initiated the mishap investigation and put them to bed in the last two empty racks on the ship- in sickbay.

  • Seamus

    If it was the Barbey, CIC would get blamed. We pretty much got blamed for everything except the cold food in the wardroom. It was an ugly existence. And we lost our helo over the side when the OOD was testing the fin stabilizers while the helo was unchocked. Not injuries worth sweating. Don’t recall any repercussions.

  • Michael Flower

    Faulting the ship’s Captain for an Act of God Incident?

    Don’t be absurd! There are more training associated deaths, the wartime associated deaths. Blaming the Captain for something he absolutely no control of, and had milliseconds of time to react too. Is just plain STUPID!! Be thankful she saved the ship and its crew, a wave like that could have taken out the ship and it crew. Reward her, don’t Blame her. If this was a MALE navy ship commander, this incident might not have seen disciplinary act or seen the light of day!!! This is a Republican Party Political and Old Boy School Navy witch hunt pure and simple.

    • TransformerSWO

      Pardon, your ignorance is showing. The CO had control over the course and speed of the ship, which the investigators found were in appropriate for the sea state & direction, and the presence of a still-turning helo on her flight deck. Had you known more about the Navy, you would know that the commanding officer is inescapably responsible for everything which occurs in his or her command. That’s how it is.

      It sounds from the article that all she got was a non-punitive letter and was not relieved for cause. That is considerably lighter than many men in similar situations have received. If you knew what the available options for dealing with the CO were, you would know that this wasn’t even punishment. You might persist in your tirade anyway because you are clearly motivated by anti-GOP politics, not by any understanding of the Navy.

  • Michael Flower

    – To be blamed for something outside of your control?

    I a rogue wave hit your ship, how in gods name are you in control. Your thinking so far outside the box, that it doesn’t even exist in our physical universe!

  • Sam Riddle

    A ship moving at 30 knots in a rough sea state during helicopter landing operations IS NOT an act of God! Sounds like the Navy needs to readdress its tiedown procedures as well with heavier chains and deck tie downs..

  • Michael Flower

    * As an Add-On comment!

    By your way of thinking, Full Admiral William “Bull” Halsey, Jr., should have been court martialed for wild goose chase of the Japanese deversion fleet by putting himself above and before his Ships, Planes, Officers, Pilots, Rates, Marines and his Fleet, for self-satisfying glory by trying too get his FLEET ADMIRAL rank and possibly the MEDAL OF HONOR too boot. That what I call gross incompetence on the divine order.

    • dba7

      That’s why you don’t see UNS naming ships/buildings after William “Bull” Halsey.
      They are still sore (as should be) about his wild goose chase.

      • Retired Chief

        Aside from the USS HALSEY (DDG 97) an Arleigh Burke destroyer. No your audience and material.


    Wait…….we ALL know that if the Starboard Head, “blows out” ….some one who may (5) yrs. ago was on a aircraft carrier, and was the impressive rank of 0-2, had to write the “report” that was the cause of an investigation, said, “wait…..that woman, she should have know better, and hummmm, she is also a grad. from “Canoe Univ”., and well as we ALL know, we have to trim the ranks……so, ha, lets, and we can do this. “Let the hammer drop”. Folks….really, an act of GOD. No, I have not forgotten the two persons who lost there lives, but, again, an act of God, a rouge wave……Really.