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Report: 'Spatial disorientation' caused Black Hawk crash

By Amy R. Connolly
A UH-60L Blackhawk Helicopter flies a low-level mission over Iraq on Jan. 7, 2004. The cause of the March 10 crash that killed 11 servicemen on a training mission in the Gulf of Mexico was "spacial disorientation," military investigators said. Photo by Suzanne M. Jenkins/Air Force | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/2fc919cb32da68748849af161e0d8dea/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
A UH-60L Blackhawk Helicopter flies a low-level mission over Iraq on Jan. 7, 2004. The cause of the March 10 crash that killed 11 servicemen on a training mission in the Gulf of Mexico was "spacial disorientation," military investigators said. Photo by Suzanne M. Jenkins/Air Force | License Photo

PENSACOLA, Fla., June 4 (UPI) -- U.S. military investigators determined the March 10 crash of a Black Hawk helicopter that killed 11 was caused by "spatial disorientation" after thick fog rolled into the waters off Florida's panhandle and caused near blackout conditions.

The joint investigation by U.S. Special Operations Command and the Louisiana National Guard found the UH-60 aircraft crashed into the Gulf of Mexico, southwest of Eglin Air Force Base, after both pilots became disoriented and could not determine where they were in relation to the water. All seven Marines and four Louisiana Guardsmen on board were killed.

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The investigation found both pilots -- Chief Warrant Officer 4 George Wayne Griffin Jr., 37, and Chief Warrant Officer 4 George David Strother, 44 -- "disobeyed a direct order" by flying in low-cloud and limited-visibility conditions. Two helicopters went out that night, but one decided to turn around due to the poor conditions.

"During the run-up of both aircraft, individuals exhibited trepidation regarding the weather and the lack of ambient illumination. However, no one spoke up and questioned the wisdom to conduct the mission," the report stated.

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The Black Hawk crashed at 8:21pm, five minutes after and one mile north of where it had taken off. Also killed were: Marine Capt. Stanford H. Shaw III; Master Sgt. Thomas A. Saunders; Staff Sgt. Kerry M. Kemp; Staff Sgt. Andrew C. Seif; Staff Sgt. Liam A. Flynn; Staff Sgt. Marcus Bawol; and Staff Sgt. Trevor P. Blaylock. They were all part of the same team with the Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command. Louisiana Army National Guard Sgt. Lance Bergeron, 40; and Staff Sgt. Thomas Florich, 26, were also killed in the crash.

Shortly after the crash, Florich's family learned they would not be allowed to bury him at Arlington National Cemetery because he died in a training mission, not on active duty. The Louisiana National Guard is appealing the decision.

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