National Guard orders aviation safety pause after Apache crashes

by Vern Evans

The Army National Guard’s top officer ordered a component-wide pause on flight missions Monday after a pair of AH-64D Apache helicopter crashes this month, according to a release.

Units across the Guard’s 54 states and territories will “review safety policies and procedures” following the deadly Feb. 23 crash of a Mississippi National Guard Apache helicopter and the Feb. 12 crash of a Utah National Guard Apache.

Lt. Gen. Jon Jensen, the Army National Guard’s director, said the stand down aims to “ensure all of our crews are prepared as well as possible for whatever they’re asked to do.” The release did not specify how long the pause will last. The move comes less than a year after a rare Army-wide safety stand down in April 2023 ordered by then-chief Gen. James McConville after a pair of mid-air collisions killed 12 soldiers.

Army officials have not revealed the causes of the respective crashes, though the service’s safety-focused Combat Readiness Center is probing the incidents.

Mississippi officials identified the two pilots killed Friday as Chief Warrant Officer 4 Bryan Andrew Zemek and Chief Warrant Officer 4 Derek Joshua Abbott. The pair died west of Booneville, Mississippi, when their Apache went down in a rural wooded area during a “routine” training flight.

Neither of the pilots involved in the Utah crash died. The incident occurred during the landing practice phase of a training event where Army National Guard pilots took Air Force Reserve personnel aloft in helicopter familiarization flights. Images from local media reports show the damaged helicopter on its side, but largely intact.

Davis Winkie covers the Army for Military Times. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill, and served five years in the Army Guard. His investigations earned the Society of Professional Journalists’ 2023 Sunshine Award and consecutive Military Reporters and Editors honors, among others. Davis was also a 2022 Livingston Awards finalist.

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