LONDON, July 9 (Reuters) - A U.S. military helicopter that crashed during a training operation over rural England, killing four crew members, was struck by a flock of geese, leaving the pilot and co-pilot unconscious, an investigation concluded on Wednesday.
The HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter, assigned to the 56th Rescue Squadron based at the nearby U.S. air base RAF Lakenheath in eastern England, went down in January in marshland near Cley next the Sea on the north Norfolk coast, a rural area about 130 miles (209 km) northeast of London.
“The Accident Investigation Board President found by clear and convincing evidence that multiple bird strikes caused the mishap by rendering the mishap pilot and mishap co-pilot unconscious and disabling the trim and flight path stabilization systems,” a U.S. Air Force statement said.
The helicopter had been conducting a training mission to replicate the scenario of rescuing a downed F-16 jet pilot.
It was flying over Cley Marshes when a flock of geese, probably startled by the noise, took off and struck the aircraft. At least three birds smashed through the windscreen and at least one also hit the nose, the report found.
With the pilots left unconscious and the stabilisation system disabled, the helicopter crashed into the ground about three seconds later.
All those on board: Captain Christopher Stover, Captain Sean Ruane, Technical Sergeant Dale Mathews and Staff Sergeant Afton Ponce, were killed.
The report added that the cost to the U.S. government was estimated at just over $40 million. (Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Stephen Addison)