Sunday, June 8, 2014


LT C. A. Breuer and Coast Guard helo 6578,
Sunday morning, March 2, 2014 shortly after a
precautionary landing.  
Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Early on a clear Sunday morning, shortly before 8 a.m., March 2, 2014, a precautionary, emergency helicopter landing was made on the east shore of Washington Island by the crew of the search and rescue helicopter 6578, then in transit from the Traverse City Air Station to northern Wisconsin.

Local interest in this incident, which ended safely for crew and aircraft, and the subsequent removal of the helicopter within 48 hours by a maintenance crew via trailer, sparked questions.   Questioned was the soundness of this particular aircraft, given a similar incident that occurred about one month prior to this event, when the same unit was forced to land in a cornfield in lower Michigan.  (See blogs March 2 and March 3)  

Other questions that were raised:  How does crew training prepare for such an event"  What are maintenance procedures for this aircraft?  Will this helicopter model, relied upon and in service for many years, continue to serve not only Traverse City Air Station but Coast Guard-wide, as a dependable search and rescue tool?

I directed such questions to the the aircraft's commander on that March morning, LT Chris Breuer, who carefully responded in a detailed letter of 8 May 2014.  His letter was posted on June 5th, and I received it in yesterday's mail (following what I presume was a review by his Traverse City Air Station command, prior to the letter being released to the general public).

According his attached note, Breuer will soon leave the Traverse City Air Station and join Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak, in Alaska.

LT Breuer

We are pleased to reprint his letter of response, and for accuracy his entire response is given rather than selected portions of answers:

Dear Mr. Purinton,

I appreciate your interest and time documenting the 6578's beach landing.  Enclosed are answers to your questions.

1)  Unfortunately, most of the ice along our route of flight was smaller "pancake ice" or small sheets that wouldn't have held the weight of the helicopter.  Our crew train annually for water entries and the aircraft is equipped with floats, so if the malfunction had been severe enough we could had landed in the water.  Each aircraft is equipped with a raft and survival gear, also each member is dressed in a dry suit and multiple layers of insulation, depending on the water temperature.  If we had been forced to land in the water, we would have been both prepared and equipped to handle the environment.

2)  The malfunction on both the Washington Island landing and the previous cornfield landing started out with a Flight Director (auto pilot) error.  The flight director was commanding the aircraft to roll one direction and the aircraft wasn't following the command.  With the pilot's hand flying, there was excessive force in the controls and we isolated the malfunction to a hydraulic issue. After retrieving the aircraft back here to Traverse City, our maintenance crews expended 180 labor hours working to find the cause.  They were able to locate a broken check valve which allowed hydraulic pressure to flow the wrong way.  Our helicopters have multiple systems with a backup secondary system, and the flight control hydraulic is one of those.  This casualty essentially allowed the two hydraulic systems to fight each other for control of the helicopter.

3)  Our crews go through constant training and assessments to ensure they react appropriately to in-flight emergencies.  Annually pilots go through a week long simulator course at Aviation Training Center Mobile, Alabama, that tests their knowledge of emergency procedures.   Also, each year a team from Aviation Training Center Mobile will visit each unit and test flight crews on their systems and emergency procedure knowledge and in aircraft skills.  Approximately 40% of our flight hours are used of retraining, and most of those flights include some discussion or practice of emergencies.

4)  The 6578 has flown on 17 flights since our maintenance crews completed the repairs and will continue to be a fully functional part of our flight schedule.  The Air Station Engineering Officer recommends to the Commanding Officer whether to clear an aircraft for flight after any major maintenance.  For unusual situations like this one, Coast Guard Headquarters may be part of the discussion.  Because our maintenance crews are so highly trained and also fly on the aircraft, crews are confident in the work performed on all of our aircraft.

5)  The H-65 Dolphin helicopter has been in service with the Coast Guard since 1985 and will continue for the foreseeable future. The Coast Guard's H-65 fleet has completed more than 1.3 million flight hours and continues to hold a Mishap rate well below both commercial and other military branches' Mishap rates.   The H-65 Dolphin is a very well maintained and capable aircraft that crews have confidence in flying.

I hope that these answers expand your understanding of Coast Guard operations and answer your questions.  Thank you again for the detailed article and interest in our emergency landing.

Sincerely,   C. A. Breuer   (Chris Breuer)

With appreciation for his response, and with renewed appreciation for the Coast Guard's Great Lakes Air Search and Rescue program going forward...

 -  Dick Purinton

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