Las Vegas Sun

November 16, 2018

Currently: 66° — Complete forecast

Chopper crash blamed on dust condition

A bowl-like landing zone that intensified the dust kicked up by a rescue helicopter was the major factor in the October crash in Afghanistan that resulted in the death of an airman based at Nellis Air Force Base.

Airman 1st Class Jesse Samek was fatally injured when the HH-60G Pave Hawk in which he was riding crashed into a canyon wall, throwing Samek from the helicopter as it rolled down the sloping canyon wall.

The shape of the canyon contributed to a condition known as brownout, that occurs when a helicopter's rotor blades force air down on an unprepared landing surface and kicks up a dust cloud that cuts visibility for the pilot, according to an investigation report released Monday by the Air Force.

Samek, a 21-year-old flight engineer from Rogers, Ark., was part of a two-Pave Hawk rescue mission sent to evacuate an Afghani election official who had been accidentally shot in the arm by one of his personal security guards on Oct. 20, Air Force officials said.

Samek's Pave Hawk Samek crashed about 105 miles east of Shindand, Afghanistan, northwest of Kandahar, about 11 p.m. as the pilot attempted to lower two pararescuemen and a litter to the injured official on the ground.

"During this maneuver, the mishap aircraft encountered severe brownout conditions and the engines reached turbine temperature limiting," the accident investigation report states. "The mishap pilot attempted to go around and impacted the terrain just south of the intended extraction site."

The report goes on to state that the brownout was unexpectedly severe and caused a loss of visual references for the crew. It also states that a lack of dependable communications with the injured official and a lack of medical personnel on the ground added to the urgency of the mission.

Samek, a member of the Nellis-based 66th Rescue Squadron, was the only crew member to suffer fatal injuries in the crash. He died the next day.

One of the pararescuemen suffered severe injuries, and the four remaining crew members suffered minor injuries. The Nellis-based Pave Hawk was damaged beyond repair, and the approximately $9.3 million aircraft was later destroyed by U.S. personnel.

When they heard of his death, Samek's parents said they would always remember how proud their son was to be a member of the 66th and how he loved being a part of rescue missions.

Samek attended one year of college at the University of Arkansas and was an avid hunter and fisherman and played recreational hockey, family members said.

Samek joined the Air Force in February and was assigned to Nellis and the 66th in June. In September he was sent to Afghanistan as part of his first deployment.

The 66th is a combat rescue group and has sent airmen and Pave Hawks around the world. It is one of six Air Force active-duty HH-60 rescue units and is one of the most frequently deployed units at Nellis.