Spate of Osprey Mishaps, Including Air Force's Most Deadly, Will Be Investigated by Federal Watchdog

A U.S. Air Force CV-22 Osprey lands on Eglin Range
A U.S. Air Force CV-22 Osprey lands on Eglin Range, Fla., May 21, 2014. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. John Bainter)

A federal watchdog agency will examine the circumstances behind V-22 Osprey crashes and mishaps, a little more than a month after one of the aircraft plunged into the sea off the coast of Japan and claimed the lives of eight airmen.

The Government Accountability Office agreed to look into the incidents following a request last month by Reps. John Garamendi, D-Calif., and Mike Waltz, R-Fla. The lawmakers asked the agency "to conduct a review on the cause of the accidents that have resulted in several deaths involving the Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft (V-22) during military operations and training exercises."

A Dec. 19 response from the GAO that was shared with on Wednesday confirmed the probe. The safety of the Osprey has been called into question following a spate of recent crashes, including the most deadly CV-22 mishap in the Air Force's history, and a long-running mechanical issue related to its clutch.

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"GAO accepts your request as work that is within the scope of its authority," A. Nicole Clowers, the GAO's managing director of congressional relations, said in a response letter. "We anticipate that staff with the required skills will be available shortly to initiate an engagement."

The probe triggered by the letter from Garamendi and Waltz is one of two inquiries into the V-22 since the Nov. 29 crash in Japan. Late last month, House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., requested Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to turn over a slew of documents on the Osprey program, including safety records, maintenance logs, accident investigations, performance evaluations and more.

"It is crucial for the safety of our service members to ensure transparency, accountability and a thorough understanding of the steps DoD is taking to mitigate any further mechanical risks," Comer wrote in the letter.

The Air Force told last month that its Osprey aircraft are still crucial to operations but will remain grounded until they're deemed safe to fly following the crash.

The Osprey that went down in November was on a training mission off of Yakushima Island on Nov. 29. The deadly crash triggered a grounding of all Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy V-22s. That stand-down is still underway.

It marked the deadliest CV-22 crash in the Air Force's history, according to Air Force Safety Center data.

Seven of the eight remains of the airmen have been recovered and publicly identified, and search efforts, as of last week, were still underway for the remains of Maj. Eric Spendlove, 36, of St. George, Utah.

An initial investigation after debris was fished from the ocean indicated a mechanical failure in the Air Force special operations Osprey, underscoring questions about the safety of the aircraft amid a mysterious mechanical issue, called a hard clutch engagement, that has plagued the V-22 for more than a decade but only recently came to light publicly.

Prior to the training crash in Japan, three Marines were killed in August when their MV-22 Osprey crashed during training in Australia -- the cause has yet to be publicly confirmed by the service -- and five Marines died in 2022 when their Osprey suffered a catastrophic clutch failure during training in California.

Just two months prior to the Nov. 29 Osprey crash, two Marine V-22 Ospreys in Japan diverted on Sept. 14 within just two hours of each other due to "cockpit caution indications" in the aircraft while flying near where the Air Force Osprey crashed.

The last deadly Air Force Osprey crash occurred in 2010, when three service members and a civilian contractor died in Afghanistan, according to Air Force Safety Center data. The cause could not be determined by an investigative board.

Since 1992, it has been involved in numerous crashes, accidents and mishaps, leading to more than 60 deaths.

Last week, the Air Force said the voice and data recorder -- often called the black box -- from the Nov. 29 crash had been located, a major find as the service investigates the incident.

Lt. Col. Rebecca Heyse, a spokeswoman for Air Force Special Operations Command, told that the black box "will be transported to laboratories for data retrieval" and that officials "expect the analysis process to take several weeks."

Related: Air Force Recovers Black Box from Deadly Osprey Crash in Japan as Search for Remains of Last Airman Continues

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