Oct. 10 (UPI) -- After a 14-year battle to vindicate two U.S. Marine Corps aviators who were killed and subsequently blamed for crashing a MV-22 Osprey that claimed the lives of 17 other Marines, a Republican Congressman wants information as to why the pilots were incorrectly faulted for the crash itself.
During a joint press conference in Washington, D.C., Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., along with Trisha Brow and Connie Bruber, the wives of U.S. Marine pilots Lt. Col. John A. Brow and Maj. Brooks S. Gruber, announced a rare filing of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking all records pertaining to the 2000 MV-22 Osprey crash in Marana, Arizona.
"I have been fighting this for 15 years, I've been praying about this issue, asking God to please show me the light to bring peace to John Brow and Brooks Gruber," Jones told UPI. "Dead men can't talk and they have been falsely blamed for something... and the truth needed to come out."
The FOIA lawsuit seeks the release of all documents that may explain why the two Marine pilots were held accountable and ultimately blamed for the tragic crash. In May 2016, the Pentagon admitted to incorrectly blaming the pilots for the April 2000 crash after reviewing the investigation into the revolutionary Marine aircraft.
"In these types of tragedies, sometimes it is as important to see how an agency reached a conclusion as is the conclusion," Mark Zaid, the attorney representing Jones and the families on the FOIA lawsuit, told UPI. "The Department of Defense blamed two innocent officers for an incident that claimed the lives of 19 Marines. Finding out through this FOIA lawsuit what was discussed internally may help prevent another tragedy like this from occurring again, as well as give the families peace of mind."
The Defense Department last year released a six-page letter by Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work, who reviewed all previous investigations and official reports surrounding the 2000 crash. Work concluded that U.S. Marine pilots Brow and Gruber were wrongly accused by the Pentagon for years as being the primary cause or "fatal factor" during the April 8, 2000, Osprey crash that led to the catastrophic events in Marana, Ariz.
"Human factors undoubtedly contributed to the Marana accident," Work said in his six page letter, "However, it is clear that there were deficiencies in the V-22's development and engineering and safety programs that were corrected only after the crash -- and these deficiencies likely contributed to the accident and its fatal outcome. I therefore conclude it is impossible to point to a single 'fatal factor' that caused this crash."
Former Judge Advocate Marine Lt. Col. James W. Weirick, who serves as a special military legal advisor to Jones, told UPI that "from the outset, Marine Corps aviation sought to place all of the blame for the crash on the pilots, in order to save the Osprey program."
The effort to clear the Marines' names has not come easy, starting in 2002 after Jones met with Gruber's wife, a resident of Jones' district, which also houses Marine Corps base Camp Lejeune and Marine Corps Air Station New River. Over the years, the issue was met with continued stonewalling and denials from senior Marine Corps leadership to take up the issue, according to Jones.
Jones claims that former Marine Commandant Generals James L. Jones, Michael W. Hagee, James T. Conway and James F. Amos had no interest in reviewing the case, welcoming undo embarrassment on the Marine Corps.
"They never wanted to help clear the names of these two Marine pilots, so meeting Secretary Work was the key to righting this wrong... he wanted to give the benefit of the doubt to these dead pilots that the Marine Corps, for years never wanted to give," Jones said.
The 14-year battle and subsequent vindication of the Marine aviators stems from a fatal crash that occurred when Brow and Gruber were attempting to land their Osprey at a small regional airport in Marana during a nighttime training exercise designed to simulate combat operations.
The Osprey crash was attributed to multiple interrelated factors, according to an investigation conducted after the incident. Investigators cited the rapid drop in altitude, the pilots' air speed in preparation for landing, and asymmetric vortex ring state, or VRS, a dangerous flight condition that occurs during helicopter flights that can ultimately disrupt a safe landing. VRS is what caused the top secret Blackhawk used by SEAL Team Six members during the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden to crash land.
Additionally, the hybrid technology that allowed the Osprey to seamlessly transition from helicopter to airplane simply by tilting its rotors forward was still in its infancy, despite being conceptualized in the 1980s.
At the time of the crash, the Osprey, manufactured by Bell Boeing, already had a history of controversy that is comparable to today's dispute over the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
The Osprey was years behind its production schedule and well over its original budget, placing added pressures on senior Marine Corps leadership to make substantial progress in the Osprey's development and implementation process or risk Congressional budgetary cuts.
However, in the wake of the official investigation, Marine officials, including former Commandant Gen. James L. Jones, ignored the external factors that contributed to the Osprey crash and instead told the media that "human errors" were the leading cause of the aerial disaster.
In 2016, Work said he hoped clearing the Marine aviators provides some level of peace to the families, writing, "I hope this letter will provide the widows of Lieutenant Colonel Brow and Major Gruber some solace after all of these years in which the blame for the Marana accident was incorrectly interpreted or understood to be primarily attributed to their husbands."