The circumstances surrounding Black Hawk helicopter crash over the Mediterranean remain a mystery, but one expert has a theory on what happened.
Aviation attorney Timothy Loranger of Wisner Baum think it points to pilot error in a challenging maneuver, and families may not be able to sue for wrongful death if that proves to be the case, says the experienced aircraft mechanic and pilot.
“There is very little information available, but the fact that this happened during aerial refueling immediately speaks to potential pilot error, either on the MH-60M (helicopter) side or the tanker. This is a difficult task for airplanes and seemingly even more challenging for helicopters,” he said in an exclusive statement.
He continued: “The helicopter was operated by the 160th SOAR which is the Army’s most elite aviation unit. They are very highly trained and skilled, so an incident like this is even more confounding. If the issue is pilot error, there is no way for the families to file a legal claim due to the Feres Doctrine. The only claim they could have would be against the helicopter or tanker manufacturer and at this point, there’s no information pointing to a failure of the machine. However, that could come out in time.”
The US Army Special Operations Command on Monday identified the five Army aviation special operations forces killed when their helicopter crashed in the Eastern Mediterranean over the weekend, calling each a “national treasure” whose loss cut deeply.
The military’s European Command said the UH-60 helicopter went down during an air refueling mission as part of military training.
The five service members who died were Chief Warrant Officer 3 Stephen R. Dwyer, 38, of Clarksville, Tennessee; Chief Warrant Officer 2 Shane M. Barnes, 34, of Sacramento, California; Staff Sgt. Tanner W. Grone, 26, of Gorham, New Hampshire; Sgt. Andrew P. Southard, 27, of Apache Junction, Arizona; and Sgt. Cade M. Wolfe, 24, of Mankato, Minnesota. They were all part of the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
The commander of the Army Special Operations Command, Lt. Gen. Jonathan Braga, said the fallen soldiers “hail from rare patriotic families with deep military service ties that span multiple generations and formations.”
“This is devastating news that reverberates across the entire Special Operations community,” Braga said on Monday in a statement.
“Every loss is tough, but in this case, service to the Nation is truly a family business and it’s hard to express the amount of sorrow that we all feel right now.”
The fallen soldiers were highly decorated, with multiple combat deployments in addition to responding to deployments with no notice, sent overseas to respond quickly to various national security needs.
The US has built up its force presence in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East in response to Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel. There are two carrier strike groups operating in the region, US Air Force squadrons have received additional crews and warplanes, and US special operations forces have been added to help Israel in efforts to rescue hostages taken into Gaza.