Local News

Wednesday, Jan 22 2014 08:01 PM

Pilot error caused crash that killed Bakersfield airman

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    By Photo courtesy of Jesse Aranda

    Tech. Sgt. Mark A. Smith in a U.S. Air Force rescue helicopter.

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    By Airman 1st Class Justin Veazie

    U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. James Hecker, 18th Wing commander, presents a Meritorious Service Medal to Tech Sgt. Mark Smith's spouse, Jessica, during a memorial service at Chapel One on Kadena Air Base, Japan, on Aug. 13, 2013. The MSM was awarded to Smith posthumously.

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    By Courtesy photo

    USAF Tech Sgt. Mark A. Smith and his daughters.

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    By Courtesy photo

    Tech Sgt. Mark Smith, his wife, Jessica, and their daughters during a visit to Disneyland.

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By THE BAKERSFIELD CALIFORNIAN

A U.S. Air Force investigation has determined that the August helicopter crash in Okinawa that killed Centennial High School graduate and decorated flight engineer Tech Sgt. Mark Smith was caused by pilot error.

Smith, 30, died Aug. 5 when his HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter crashed and burned during a training exercise.

According to the findings released Tuesday, Smith's helicopter was part of the 33rd Rescue Squadron and was conducting a training mission for an upcoming deployment to Afghanistan.

The pilot was flying with a second chopper in a low, circle 8 pattern and mistakenly thought a mid-air collision was imminent. His low-altitude maneuver sent the helicopter crashing into the jungle.

Smith was the only one of four crew members to die.

Col. Jeffrey Ullmann, commander of the 18th Mission Support Group at Kadena Air Base where Smith was stationed, said during a presentation of the accident findings that "There actually wasn't any danger" of collision.

Smith joined the Air Force in 2000 after graduating from Centennial.

He is survived by his wife and two daughters.

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