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Families of Marines killed in V-22 Osprey crash demand answers as Pentagon officials testify before Congress

Written by on June 13, 2024

(WASHINGTON) — After a congressional hearing on Wednesday on safety concerns over the V-22 Osprey, during which a military leader said the aircraft will remain under safety restrictions until 2025, grieving families of fallen service members voiced frustration over unanswered questions and demanded accountability in an interview with ABC News.

Lawmakers on the House Oversight subcommittee on national security pressed Pentagon witnesses on the deadly history of the aircraft throughout the hearing.

“The total number of fatalities that I’m tracking is 54 fatalities … and 93 injuries,” said Vice Adm. Carl Chebi, head of U.S. Naval Air Systems Command, which oversees the Osprey for the entire U.S. military.

After a string of fatal V-22 crashes between 2022 and 2023, Chebi decided to ground Osprey flights to give time for investigators to identify potential problems and come up with safety recommendations. The military lifted the flight ban in early 2024, after instituting several new protocols and restrictions.

In June 2022, five Marines were killed after a clutch problem caused a failure in the right engine of their V-22 during a training flight over Glamis, California, a military investigation found. Some of the changes that came out of Chebi’s safety stand-down were designed to address this problem, both by giving flight crews updated protocols on how to handle clutch problems and by preventatively replacing key parts before they could become too worn.

But on Wednesday, Chebi said that the risk posed by the clutch problem will not be eliminated until a redesign is completed, which could take more than a year, and he will not lift the restrictions on Osprey flights until then.

“I will not certify the V-22 to return to unrestricted flight operations until I am satisfied that we have sufficiently addressed the issues that may affect the safety of the aircraft. Based on the data that I have today, I’m expecting that this will not occur before mid 2025,” he said.

Chebi said he has also ordered a comprehensive review of the Pentagon’s Osprey program, which will take another six to nine months to be completed.

Several family members of Marines killed in the 2022 tragedy traveled to attend Wednesday’s hearing, and could be seen holding photos of their deceased loved ones in their seats directly behind the witnesses.

“The families submitted some questions that we had hoped to be answered,” Amber Sax, wife of Capt. John Sax, told ABC News after the hearing. “Not all of them were answered. I would say the majority actually were not, unfortunately.”

Sax would also like answers from the companies that make the Osprey. And she’s not alone.

Last month, she and family members of the other Marines killed in the 2022 catastrophe filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit against Boeing, Rolls Royce and Bell Textron, which are each involved in producing the aircraft.

The companies have said they can’t comment on pending litigation.

“We have many questions for them that we hope that they will answer and that will come to light,” Sax said. “And I believe that they’re the people that should be sitting in those seats next time.”

“We don’t want someone else to have to go through what we’ve been going through for the last two years now. Something has got to change. Something definitely has to change,” said Michelle Strickland, mother of Lance Cpl. Evan Strickland, who was 19 when he was killed in the crash.

Evan’s father agreed.

“We stand together as families to hold accountable those that owe us answers,” said Brett Strickland. “We have to be their voice, because they no longer have one.”

While the military has other aircraft that could possibly take on the missions currently carried out by the V-22, the Osprey stands out for its ability to take off and land vertically like a helicopter, but also fly fast like a conventional airplane by changing the angle of its propellers.

Timothy Loranger, an attorney at Wisner Baum representing the families, echoed lawmakers who advocated the military prioritize safety by using helicopters to replace Ospreys, until more problems have been worked out.

“They should, as they were asked, consider grounding the aircraft, using some alternative platform like the CH-53 [helicopter] or something else that they know is reliable,” Loranger said.

The Gold Star families who spoke to ABC News after the hearing opened up about the strong character of their lost loved ones.

“He was kind, he was so genuine … he had such a zest for life. Everything was like an adventure to him … He was just so genuine and just a pure spirit,” said Michelle Strickland of her son.

His father spoke about with the lengths to which the young Marine would go to for his friends, from walking miles in the dark to be there for someone after a breakup, to “just lightening the mood a little bit with this goofiness.”

Amber Sax said of her late husband, “John grew up with a love for flight. He loved his family very deeply. He loved his country very dearly.”

The family members are not trying to get rid of the Osprey their loved ones flew; they just want it to fly at its best.

“A few short months before losing John, we celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary by getting an ultrasound to see our youngest daughter, who went on to arrive three months after his passing,” Sax said in written testimony submitted to the House Oversight subcommittee ahead of Wednesday’s hearing.

Just after the hearing, she told ABC News, “I want to be able to take my daughters to an air show someday — John loved going to air shows, and he would have taken them if he were here — and I want them to be able to see an Osprey flying and say ‘That’s flying because my daddy and other brave people made it safer for them to fly.'”

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