Black Hawk pilots lost control, crashed in thick fog

Kevin McGill Associated Press

New Orleans — A Black Hawk helicopter crashed last March, killing 11 servicemen, because two veteran Louisiana Army National Guard helicopter pilots got disoriented and lost control after failing to switch from visual-based to instrument-based flight procedures in a thick fog during a training exercise, the military said Thursday.

The pilots, two other Louisiana guardsmen and seven Marines died in the crash off the Florida coast.

“The investigation determined that the direct cause of the accident was spatial disorientation of both pilots, which caused them to lose control of the aircraft,” a statement from the Louisiana guard said. “The spatial disorientation was due to the pilots failing to effectively transition from visual flight procedures to instrument flight procedures as thick sea fog rolled into the training area.”

The March 10 crash was investigated by the Louisiana guard and the U.S. Special Operations Command.

Piloting the helicopter were Chief Warrant Officer George Wayne Griffin Jr., 37, of Hammond, and Chief Warrant Officer George David Strother, 44, of Alexandria. Both were decorated veteran pilots. Griffin had twice served in Iraq; Strother had served in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo.

Staff Sgts. Lance Bergeron, 40, of Hammond, and Thomas Florich, 26, of Fairfax County, Virginia, rounded out the Guard crew.

The report was another grim reminder of the tragedy for Florich’s father, Stephen Florich. A former Army major and Green Beret who has been involved in training at the Army’s Fort Polk in Louisiana, he had no criticism for anyone involved.

“It’s tragic that 11 servicemen gave up their lives,” he said in a brief interview. “They train to keep this nation safe.”

Messages left for other family members were not immediately returned.

The seven Marines were part of the Marine Special Operations Command, or MARSOC, which totals about 2,500 troops:

They included Staff Sgt. Andrew Seif, 26, of Holland, Michigan; Staff Sgt. Marcus Bawol, 27, of Warren, Michigan; Staff Sgt. Kerry Michael Kemp, 27, of Port Washington, Wisconsin; Capt. Stanford H. Shaw, III, 31, from Basking Ridge, New Jersey; Master Sgt. Thomas A. Saunders, 33, from Williamsburg, Virginia; Staff Sgt. Trevor P. Blaylock, 29, from Lake Orion, Michigan and Staff Sgt. Liam A. Flynn, 33, from Queens, New York.