By Alexander Shedd
In August 2021, a tragic accident aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln claimed the lives of five sailors of the US Navy, including Naval Air Crewman (Helicopter) 2nd Class James P. Buriak, 31, of Salem. Members of the “Eightballers” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 8 (HSC-8), all five sailors were lost after their MH-60S Knighthawk helicopter malfunctioned while landing on the flight deck of the Abraham Lincoln and fell into the ocean off the coast of California. A new report released following a command investigation into the incident showed that a system failure in the helicopter was to blame rather than crew error.
The other four sailors lost in the crash were pilot Lt. Bradley A. Foster, 29, of Oakhurst, Calif.; pilot Lt. Paul R. Fridley, 28, of Annandale, Va.; HM2 Class Sarah F. Burns, 31, of Severna Park, Md.; and HM3 Bailey J. Tucker, 21, of St. Louis, Mo.
According to the report, the accident occurred after the helicopter touched down on the flight deck and began to experience a vertical vibration from the tail wheel that increased in severity and caused the helicopter to rotate left. The tail of the helicopter then collided with a gutter of the Abraham Lincoln. The report states that the crew members may have unsuccessfully attempted to stabilize the helicopter, which ultimately collided again with the ship and lost its blades before falling into the sea.
The five crew members who were lost were all restrained within the helicopter by their harnesses or gunner’s belts. One crew member survived, likely due to being by the left gunner’s window, which was facing up toward the surface as the helicopter sank.
The crew and helicopter were not recovered until October 2021. After recovering the helicopter, the Navy concluded that the crash was caused by a failure in one of the vehicle’s damper hoses. The damper hoses are responsible for providing fluid to the damper system in the rotor for each blade. According to the report, damper hoses are typically only replaced after failing or showing problems during inspection. HSC-8’s Knighthawk helicopter had passed inspection and completed two previous flights the same day. The report ultimately concluded that the hose failed due to a flattening of its braids, which did not turn up during inspection, and was not the fault of any crew member.