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February 14th 2000 – Mendig, Germany. Following routine maintenance, a Sikorsky CH-53G military helicopter was returned to service. Due to negligence, some hoses had not been connected correctly. The wrongly connected hoses resulted in a malfunction, causing the rotor blades of the helicopter to smash through the windows of the helicopter cockpit. Both the pilot and the co-pilot were hit by the rotor blades and decapitated. Other passengers in the helicopter were injured. Due to vibrations, the helicopter fell to the ground and its tail partly broke away. The bodies and body parts of the pilot and co-pilot were found on the ground outside the helicopter cockpit.

Fig.1 Final position of the helicopter.

Fig.2 Schematic drawing of the Sikorsky/VFW-Fokker CH-53G helicopter and seating positions of the pilot and co-pilot.

Fatality 1: The body was that of a 35-year-old man with a body length of 170 cm (5′7′′) after decapitation. There was a complete decapitation concentrated at the skull cap and the base of the skull was crushed. The brain had been torn out of the cranial cavity. The right arm was completely amputated and there were fractures at the left forearm as well as partial amputation of the left hand. The lungs were altered by blood aspiration. There was only faint post-mortem lividity due to exsanguination (severe loss of blood). The cause of death was decapitation (and amputation of the right arm).

Fig.3 Decapitation and amputation of the right arm of fatality 1.

Fig.4 Complete crushing of the base of the skull of fatality 1.

Fatality 2: The body was that of a 44-year-old man with a body length of 170 cm (5′7′′) after decapitation. The autopsy revealed complete decapitation as well as a severe laceration of the right shoulder. Both hands were amputated. Multiple injuries resulted in exsanguination with subsequent faint postmortem lividity. The lungs exhibited blood inhalation. No indications for pre-existing diseases were found. The cause of death was decapitation.

Fig.5 Decapitation and severe laceration of the right shoulder of Fatality 2.

Fig.6 Amputation of the right hand in fatality 2.

Fig.7 Amputation of the left hand in fatality 2.

During the days following the crash further body parts (for example bone fragments from both skulls, fingers, parts of hands, and brains) originating from the killed pilot and the co-pilot were handed in for postmortem examination.

Propeller injuries are mainly observed after boating accidents (water skiing, boat racing, scuba diving, etc.). They are often characterized by multiple, parallel deep, and mostly clear-cut injuries. Such lesions may of course be fatal. Furthermore, postmortem mutilation caused by boat propellers may be observed on bodies recovered from water. A body may also be found decapitated or be divided into several parts by large propellers.

Injuries caused by the rotating blades of helicopters appear to be rather rare events. In the presented case, the fatal outcome for the two pilots was caused by faulty routine maintenance. The engineers who had been responsible for the routine maintenance were convicted of manslaughter. The rotor blades had smashed into the helicopter cockpit within 3–5 s after take-off. Therefore, it was found that the pilot and co-pilot had not been in a position to escape the fatal accident.

Fig.8 The same helicopter on a NATO-led Stabilisation Force (SFOR) mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina in August 1999. /Galindo

Fig.9 On February 14th 2020, twenty-six former members of regiment 35 gathered to commemorate the pilots at their designated memorial, 20 years after the accident.

Fig.10 Every year at the time of the accident, active / former soldiers and civil employees can gather here for a memorial.

News report

Bundeswehr helicopter crashed: two dead – February 2000

Two pilots were killed in an accident with a Bundeswehr transport helicopter in the afternoon at the Mendig military airfield near Koblenz. A lieutenant from the Army Information Center announced that the accident occurred when the helicopter was still on the ground in the preparation phase for the flight and the rotors were already running.

For reasons that are still unexplained, the helicopter vibrated so much that it tilted sideways and its main rotor, almost 30 meters (98.4 ft) in diameter, hit the ground. As a result, parts of the rotor flew away and the tail tore up.

In addition to the two pilots, six other people were on board. According to initial medical examinations, they did not suffer any serious injuries.

The medium-sized transport helicopter of the type CH-53 manufactured by the US company Sikorsky had recently been in a routine maintenance inspection. The machine belongs to the Army Aviation Regiment 35, which is stationed in Mendig. -Loosely translated with Google translate

Fig.11 A Sikorsky/VFW-Fokker CH-53G helicopter, similar to the one involved in the accident, transporting a military truck.

News report

Soldiers charged with negligent homicide – April 2005

After the fatal helicopter accident at the Bundeswehr base in Mendig, the Koblenz public prosecutor brought charges against 5 soldiers and an aircraft mechanic. The indictment was a negligent homicide and negligent bodily harm.

The investigators concluded that the accident was triggered by sloppiness during an inspection of the helicopter. Two soldiers were killed and three injured in the accident. The investigations revealed that when the test flight took off, the helicopter’s main rotor suddenly tilted forward sharply. As a result, the rotor blades smashed into the cockpit of the helicopter and killed the two pilots, a 44-year-old captain, and a 35-year-old lieutenant. The rotor caused the entire helicopter to vibrate so strongly that the aircraft broke apart and overturned. Three other soldiers were injured, some seriously.

An expert report concluded that the 6 suspects, who were involved in the inspection and the subsequent tests, were responsible for the accident. Essentially, the accident was triggered by swapping two hydraulic lines. Subsequent tests were partly incomplete or carried out superficially so that the interchanged lines remained undetected.

According to the Chief Public Prosecutor, the defendants are a corporal, a sergeant major, an off-duty sergeant major, as well as 2 captains and an aircraft mechanic. One of the captains testified in the course of the investigation that the swapping of the 2 hydraulic lines would not have been noticed even with a proper test. The sergeant major, on the other hand, blamed training and organizational deficiencies for the accident. The other four defendants did not comment. -Loosely translated with Google translate

Fig.12 German Army Sikorsky CH-53G Super Stallion at ILA Berlin Air Show in 2016.

News report

Suspected sentences in the trial of fatal helicopter accident – February 2006

The Koblenz district court sentenced 5 of the 6 defendants to suspended sentences of three months each for negligent homicide and negligent bodily harm. The sixth defendant has to pay a fine of 3600 euros, a court spokesman said on request.

In the accident, the two pilots of the helicopter were killed and three other crew members were injured. The two killed soldiers had taken over the helicopter for a check-up flight after a so-called main phase inspection. When they started the main rotor, it leaned forward so that the rotor blades hit the cab. The two men were fatally injured. When the helicopter broke apart, three other occupants were injured, one of them seriously.

The accident was triggered by two hydraulic hoses that had been misplaced during maintenance work. The defendants were responsible for the maintenance work and its inspection. -Loosely translated with Google translate

Fig.13 German Army Sikorsky CH-53G during cross training in the Swiss Alps in 2005.

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