Navy Lieutenant Wes Van Dorn raised concerns for years about the safety of the MH-53E helicopters in his squadron. Aging equipment and shoddy maintenance plagued the entire fleet for years, which he believed seriously jeopardized the lives of his crew. Tragically, he was proven correct when faulty wiring sparked a fire in his helicopter, causing it to crash off the coast of Virginia on January 8, 2014. Lt. Van Dorn, Lt. Sean Snyder, and Petty Officer Brian Collins all died from their injuries.
This incident is a tragic case-study that places into clear relief many of the issues we have been raising for decades. The 53-series helicopters have been described by some as the deadliest aircraft in the United States inventory. Many of them have been pressed far beyond their anticipated service life because three programs intended to replace the MH-53’s mine countermeasure missions failed. Maintenance troubles have also plagued the program, in part because the services often prefer to spend funds on the latest over-budget piece of gadgetry rather than adequately providing for the upkeep of what is in service today.
This episode of the Pentagon Labyrinth features interviews with Nicole Van Dorn, Lt. Van Dorn’s widow, and Zachary Stauffer, director and producer of the new documentary film Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn?.