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Marine Osprey Aircraft Crashes in Onslow County, Four Dead

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ONSLOW COUNTY — A Marine MV-22 Osprey aircraft went down in Onslow County Monday night, killing four Marines and prompting new questions about the future of the tilt-rotor craft.

Osprey Went Down in Wooded Area, Crews Struggled to Reach Crash SiteThe aircraft was on a routine night-training mission when it went down in a wooded area north of Jacksonville Monday night. The Marine Corps confirmed that the Osprey's four crewmen were killed.

The last contact with the Osprey was a mayday call at 7:27 p.m., received atMarine Corps Air Station New River, the aircraft's base.

Forestry officials used a bulldozer to knock down trees so they could reach the crash, which burned an Osprey-shaped area in the woods. Officials were unable to reach the aircraft until around 11 p.m.

"It was all [the crews] could do to get through the woods," says Col. Mark Goodman, Camp Lejeune's chief safety officer. "It's extraordinarily thick."

The four dead crewmen were identified as: Lt. Col. Keith M. Sweaney, 42, of Richmond, Va.; Maj. Michael L. Murphy, 38, of Blauvelt, N.Y.; Staff Sgt. Avely W. Runnels, 25, of Morven, Ga.; and Sgt. Jason A. Buyck, 24, of Sodus, N.Y.

Witnesses told investigators that the crew appeared to be trying to avoid populated areas.

"They did a pretty valiant effort to try to avoid the civilian population area," he says.

Dozens of Marines descended on the heavily guarded crash site, located down a long dirt road in the thick forest.

Crews trying to reach the crash were turned away from the burning wreckage by potentially dangerous airborne fumes and fibers given off by the composite materials used in the aircraft.

They struggled through deep mud in a roadless wilderness that one Marine said could not be crossed even with the military's all-wheel-drive Humvees.

A flight data recorder was recovered, but there was no immediate indication of what caused the crash.

The fallen Osprey and its crew were part of a training squadron based at New River, which is adjacent to Camp Lejeune.

The last major air crash in the area was in 1996 when a Sea Knight transport helicopter collided with an AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopter, killing 14 Marines. Witnesses Heard Boom When Osprey Crashed"The rotors got real loud, and it disappeared behind a tree," says Mark Calnan, who heard the crash. "There was an orange flash, a great big one. Then, I heard a pop. It crackled like thunder."

Joe Simmons lives about a mile from the crash site. He says his house shook before the aircraft crashed.

"It sounded like a motorcycle going down the road, then, there was a silent pause," he says. "Then, it cranked up again, then, a loud boom." Aircraft Grounded While Marines Investigate Troubled ProgramMonday's crash was second fatal Osprey accident this year.

An Osprey aircraft crashed while attempting to land at an Arizona airport in April, killing 19 Marines. The accident was attributed to human error.

Before that, a prototype crashed in Delaware in June 1991 while on its first flight, and in July 1992, another prototype crashed near Quantico, Va., killing seven people.

In a less serious incident, no one was injured when an Osprey made a "precautionary landing" in Wilmington last month.

Gen. James L. Jones, the commandant of the Marine Corps, grounded the entire Osprey fleet Tuesday. He also asked Defense Secretary William Cohen to convene a panel of experts to review the troubled $40 billion program.

The commandant also asked the Pentagon to delay a decision that was due this month on giving the go-ahead to begin full-rate production of the Osprey, which takes off and lands like a helicopter and flies like a plane.

The aircraft, which is scheduled to replace all of the Marines' primary troop transport helicopters, is still being evaluated by the military.

Before Monday's crash, there were nine Osprey aircraft in the Marines' fleet. The fleet has been grounded at least three times in the past year. Military Consultant: Aging Technology Due to Be ReplacedWRAL's military consultant, retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Robert D. Springer, says the Osprey is a complex aircraft, and it would be dangerous to assume the aircraft failed.

"I don't think we should prejudge the airplane as having a mechanical deficency," he says. "It could be pilot or air crew error."

Springer says the current technology, due to be replaced by the Osprey, is expensive and difficult to maintain.

"So far, the Osprey has been the answer [for replacing the older equipment]," he says. "We'll have to see what the analysis makes of the program now." From staff and wire reports

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Brian Bowman, Reporter
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