Pilots Officially Cleared of Responsibility in V-22 Crash

(left) Jones with Brooke and Connie Gruber. Connie's husband, Brooke's father, was one of the V-22 pilots. (right) Jones with John Brow, holding a picture of his father, who was one of the V-22 pilots. Source: Office of Representative Walter Jones

Sixteen years after the fact, the Pentagon has finally admitted that a V-22 Osprey crash that killed 19 Marines was not caused by the two pilots, clearing their names. Following the crash, military investigators concluded that the pilots were not at fault, but the Marine Corps publicly insisted that it was “human-error.” Defending the airworthiness of the platform, the Marine Corps laid the blame for the April 2000 crash on the two pilots, Maj. Brooks Gruber and Lt. Col. John Brow. Later that same year, problems with the propellers creating “brown-out” and other factors led the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) to declare the MV-22 “not operationally suitable.”

The about-face comes after a fourteen-year campaign by Representative Walter Jones (R-NC) to clear the pilot’s names, a task he took on after meeting Major Gruber’s widow, Connie, at the funeral. According to Stars and Stripes, Jones has made more than 150 speeches on the House Floor to bring attention to the issue. “Anyone familiar with the accident agrees that the pilots were not at fault,” Jones once told the Project On Government Oversight.

William Lawrence, who was in charge of testing the V-22s from 1985 to 1988, told Jones he was “convinced [the crash] was the result of poor design and possible inadequate training.” He added that the flight crew, composed of Colonel Brow and Major Gruber, “could not have understood the actions necessary to prevent the crash.”

When POGO asked Jones in 2011 why he continued a campaign that many saw as quixotic, he quoted the French philosopher Voltaire: “To the living we owe respect, to the dead we owe only the truth.” When POGO asked Jones at the time why he thought the Navy and Marine Corps hadn’t changed their official reports blaming the pilots for the crash, he said: “There’s no reason for it. I can only give you my opinion—that it’s either arrogance or trying to protect somebody that maybe didn’t act in the proper way.”

The letter clearing the pilots’ names, signed by Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work, seems to come to a similar conclusion regarding the innocence of the pilots:

After considering all of the links in the chain that led to this particular accident, I disagree with the characterization that the pilots’ drive to accomplish the mission was “the fatal factor” in the crash…[I]t is clear that there were deficiencies in the V-22’s development and engineering and safety programs that were corrected only after the crash – and these deficiencies likely contributed to the accident and its fatal outcome.

The V-22 program has been continually plagued with issues, with numerous accidents and insufficient testing resulting not only in delays to the program but also in the deaths of service members. The Straus Military Reform Project has followed issues in the V-22 program since as early as 2001, highlighting the issues of concurrency, inadequate testing, and a high-level cover-up that implicated then-Brig. Gen. James F. Amos and Lt. Gen. Fred McCorkle.

“Rep. Jones demonstrates a rare quality on Capitol Hill: he is outraged by injustice and goes up against powerful forces to help the powerless,” said Danielle Brian, POGO’s executive director, about Jones’s campaign. “His commitment is inspiring. I wish we had a lot more with his dedication to truth and justice around here.”

Jones intends to address the issues once more on the House Floor, but this time in celebration.