Minnesota National Guard releases summary of investigation results from 2019 helicopter crash

The Minnesota National Guard has released the results of its investigation into the Dec. 5, 2019 Black Hawk helicopter crash near Kimball, Minnesota that left three crew members dead. The investigation identified several factors that contributed to the accident, including incorrect installation of the Hydromechanical Unit, improper inspection and pilot errors.

A summary of the investigation findings released by the Guard found that "on Dec. 5, 2019, a crew of three Minnesota National Guard members – a maintenance test pilot, a pilot and an aircraft mechanic – conducted a maintenance test flight to verify the proper installation of the aircraft’s Hydromechanical Unit (HMU). The crew was conducting a maximum power check on the Number 1 engine in an area southwest of the St. Cloud regional airport. The Number 1 engine failed during the check and the Number 2 engine was in the idle setting, causing a dual engine out condition. The crew did not recover the aircraft from this condition and it subsequently impacted the ground at a high rate of speed."

Chief Warrant Officer 2 James A. Rogers Jr., age 28; Chief Warrant Officer 2 Charles P. Nord, age 30; and Sgt. Kort M. Plantenberg, age 28 were killed in the crash. All three soldiers were assigned to Company C, 2-211th General Support Aviation Battalion, based in St. Cloud.

The investigation identified several factors that contributed to the accident: 

  • The Number 1 engine failed due to an incorrect installation of the Hydromechanical Unit (HMU) 
  • The inspection of the HMU installation was not completed in accordance with the published installation procedure 
  • The Maintenance Test Pilot failed to respond to a critical situation during a maintenance maneuver 
  • The pilot on the controls failed to execute an autorotative descent and landing 
  • Leaders did not adequately assess the technical inspector’s ability to perform his duties while pending administrative actions 
  • In accordance with Army Regulation and the Minnesota Army Aviation Standard Operating Procedures, the aircraft mechanic should not have been on the flight because he did not have a valid purpose for being on the flight 

The investigation recommends the Minnesota National Guard take the following actions to prevent an accident like this from happening again: 

  • Consider administrative action for the mechanic who installed the HMU. 
  • Consider administrative action for the inspector who inspected the maintenance work. (As of January 2020, the inspector is no longer employed with the Minnesota National Guard). 
  • Additional training for maintenance test pilots regarding the conduct of maintenance test flights 
  • Additional training for all Minnesota National Guard pilots in responding to emergency procedures. 
  • Review of the written and unwritten policies regarding maintenance test flights 

The Minnesota National Guard’s investigation is in addition to the investigation conducted by the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center at Fort Rucker in Alabama. The safety investigation results are not releasable to the public, according to the Guard.

The families of the deceased Minnesota National Guard soldiers have received separate, individual briefings on the findings of the investigation.

“It is critical for us to determine what caused this tragic loss of life – not so that we can place blame, but so that we can do everything possible to ensure nothing like this ever happens again,” said Brig. Gen. Sandy Best, Interim Adjutant General - Minnesota National Guard.