Investigators release initial findings in fatal National Guard helicopter crash

From left to right, CW4 Jesse Anderson, 43; CW3 George “Geoff” Laubhan, 39; and CW3 Matthew Peltzer, 43, | Courtesy Idaho National Guard

BOISE — Officials say poor weather and human error contributed to the crash of an Idaho National Guard helicopter that killed three guardsmen last month.

The Idaho National Guard released their preliminary findings during a Friday morning news conference at Gowen Field. Col. Christopher Burt, state Army aviation officer for the ING, said investigators have not found any mechanical issues, but the crash remains under investigation.

“Environmental factors were found to be a contributing factor in this accident,” Burt said. “The crew had the required ceiling and visibility to depart Boise and to conduct their mission. They continually monitored and evaluated the weather throughout their flight.”

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Investigators determined that as the three pilots on board the UH-60 Black Hawk — CW4 Jesse Anderson, 43; CW3 George “Geoff” Laubhan, 39; and CW3 Matthew Peltzer, 43 — returned to Boise, the weather rapidly deteriorated. Fog settled in, precipitation fell and the visibility of the nearby mountains fell in. About 15 minutes after the crew last contacted their base, the helicopter’s emergency transmitter went active, promptly launching a search and rescue operation for the helicopter and three guardsmen.

Later that night, search teams found the downed helicopter along with the guardsmen’s bodies.

Burt said as the crew encountered the poor weather conditions, they began to transition to flying with their instruments. A procedure activated when pilots are unable to maintain their point of reference as the weather moved in. The crew had only 14 seconds from the time they switched to their instruments to the time the aircraft hit the ground, according to Burt.

“The crew initiated the procedure appropriately while maintaining excellent crew coordination, however, the crew was unable to successfully establish a rate of climb that would allow the aircraft to clear the rising terrain and the ridgeline,” Burt said. “This resulted in the aircraft impacting the mountainside, destroying the aircraft and fatally injuring all crew members.”

Burt said while weather played a role, the primary cause of the crash was the crews’ inability to complete the emergency procedure. Officials did not place blame on a single pilot but said the crew works as one, working to complete a mission.

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“As an aviation community we will never get over this great tragedy, but we will get through it,” Burt said. “Our mission does not stop and we must honor our fallen brothers by safely carrying on with that mission.

Transcripts, photos and other documents are not yet being released as the investigation continues. Officials say further testing and analysis are needed before a finalized report is completed and all the information released.

While the guard grounded the entire helicopter fleet on Feb. 3, Burt said flights and missions resumed last week. He said Guardsmen and women will continue with their mission to honor Anderson’s, Laubhan’s and Peltzer’s legacy.

“We are really blessed to serve in a time and a place where so many honor and respect the men and women who serve in our military,” said Maj. Gen. Michael Garshak, commander of the Idaho National Guard. “Your tremendous support is a true reflection of those shared values and is extremely appreciated.”