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'Spatial disorientation' led to Black Hawk crash

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BATON ROUGE - The Louisiana National Guard says a black hawk helicopter that crashed off the coast of Florida in March was in the air less than five minutes before crashing into the water.

"They hit the water at about 180 mph, which was catastrophic," said Col. Pete Schneider.

Investigators say due to the thick fog, the two pilots suffered from "spatial disorientation" which makes it difficult to tell up from down and left from right.

"When I'm oriented. I'm sitting in this chair. I look down. My feet are on the ground. I can see that. I see the ceiling. I can see left, and I can see right. I know where I am," said Schneider. "When I become disoriented I can't see anything. I can see my feet there but underneath there is completely, I can't tell what it is. I look up I can't see, and I look left and look right and I can't visually see. I can't put a reference that tells me that this is left and that this is right."

The National Guard says it trains pilots to combat spatial disorientation by taking off night vision goggles and use the helicopter's instrument panel to navigate. However, it's unclear why the pilots failed to make the switch.

"We do know that these were two very experienced pilots, instructor pilots... pilots in command. One of the crew chiefs was the instructor crew chief. Very experienced, thousand of hours of combat and thousands of hours here on the homeland," said Schneider. "The communication between them toward the end starts to get a little fast, but still there's no panic. There's no distress until a very few seconds before the impact on the water."

The Louisiana National Guard plans to honor the fallen soldiers by learning from the crash to prevent others from happening. The crash killed four Louisiana guardsmen and seven marines.

 

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