At least 10 Navy helicopters were damaged in a sudden storm that blew through Norfolk Naval Station, Va., Tuesday afternoon, USNI News has learned.
According to a Navy initial assessment reviewed by USNI News, the storm resulted in 10 Class A ground mishaps – mishaps that result in more than $2.5 million in damage or the total loss of the aircraft.
“The Navy is continuing to assess the full extent of the damages to each airframe, but there are no impacts to operational forces as a result of this incident,” Cmdr. Rob Myers with Naval Air Forces Atlantic told USNI News in a statement.
“Known damages to the aircraft span from broken tail and rotor blades to structural dents and punctures in the airframes. No personnel were injured during the storm.”
The helicopters damaged were five MH-60S Knight Hawks, one MH-60R Sea Hawk and four MH-53E Sea Dragon mine countermeasures helicopters, according to the assessment.
The Navy has about 30 of the mine hunting Sea Dragons in its inventory, according to the most recent data from Naval Air Systems Command. The service has delayed retiring aging helicopters as the Navy has been slow to develop a new airborne mine-hunting platform.
At least four of the multi-million-dollar helicopters – one MH-53E and three MH-60s – were blown over by the wind, according to images of the damage circulating on social media.
The swift-moving storm traveling toward the Atlantic hugged the southern end of the James River and blew strong, high-speed winds across Norfolk’s Chambers Field, Jeff Orrock, the meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service Wakefield, Va., office, told USNI News on Wednesday.
On Tuesday afternoon, the NWS issued a severe thunderstorm alert at 3:30 p.m., with a warning of winds more than 60 miles per hour. According to the damage assessment, the high winds hit Chambers Field at 3:42 p.m. – 12 minutes after the initial warning.
When given enough warning, aircraft in the path of bad weather are taken into their hangars or tied down. However, the storm came at a time when aviation maintainers are usually in the midst of a shift change. It’s likely that most of the personnel were indoors and would have limited time to bring the aircraft in the hangars, USNI News understands.
The Tuesday damage to helicopters is under investigation, Navy officials told USNI News.
The incident at Chambers Field comes after a sudden storm in the Mediterranean Sea blew a F/A-18 Super Hornet off the deck off USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) on July 8. The loss of the fighter is still under investigation.