Marines temporarily ground planes in wake of Hornet crash

The Marine Corps has ordered all non-deployed aircraft squadrons to observe a 24-hour “operational pause” after a Miramar-based squadron suffered a third F/A-18C Hornet crash in 12 months — two within the span of a week, one fatal.

Marine Corps spokeswoman Capt. Sarah Burns told Military.com there would be an operational pause for all Marine Aircraft Wings, exempting deployed units.

“This operational pause is to happen within the next seven business days,” she said in an email. “Operational pauses are routine and are a time to align, discuss best practices and look at ways to continue to improve.”

Marine corps ground planes in wake of Hornet crash

US Marine Corps photo

The news of this grounding throughout Marine Corps aviation was first reported by Marine Corps Times.

Burns said the timing of the pause was at the discretion of the wing commanders. Investigations into the most recent crashes are still ongoing, she said.

Pilot Maj. Richard Norton of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 232 was killed July 28 when his F/A-18C Hornet went down during training near Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California.

A second pilot attached to the squadron, who has not been identified, is being treated after ejecting from his F/A-18C Hornet on Aug. 2 over Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada, during a training flight.

That aircraft had been temporarily assigned to Fallon’s Strike Fighter Wing Pacific Detachment, officials said.

In October 2015, a Marine pilot also attached to VMFA-232, Maj. Taj Sareen, was killed when his Hornet crashed near Royal Air Force Airfield Lakenheath in England during a flight from Bahrain to Miramar at the completion of a six-month deployment to the Middle East.

No cause has been publicly released for any of these three crashes.

Officials said recently they have wrapped up an investigation into a deadly Navy F/A-18C crash that happened earlier this summer. Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss, a soloist with the Blue Angels demonstration team, was killed June 3 when his aircraft crashed shortly after takeoff in what was supposed to be a rehearsal flight ahead of an airshow in Smyrna, Tennessee. The results of that investigation have yet to be released.

In a discussion at a think tank in Washington, D.C., on July 29, the Marines’ head of aviation, Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, said he did not believe diminished flight hours for Hornet pilots had contributed to the tragic July 28 crash.

“I track [flight hours] each week. This particular unit was doing OK,” he said.

Davis added he did not believe that reduced flight hours, a function of limited resources and available aircraft, were making Marine Corps squadrons less safe, but added the Corps was “not as proficient as we should be.”

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