JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The U.S. Coast Guard on Tuesday dismissed negligent homicide and other charges against the sole survivor of a 2010 helicopter crash off the Washington coast.
The decision in the case of Lt. Lance Leone was in line with the recommendations of an investigating officer, who oversaw a three-day military hearing in December. Leone was the co-pilot of the MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter flying from Astoria, Ore., to the crew’s base in Sitka, Alaska, when it crashed off the Washington coast in July 2010.
He was charged with negligent homicide, dereliction of duty and destruction of government property stemming from the crash, which killed pilot Sean Krueger and crewmen Brett Banks and Adam C. Hoke. The negligent homicide charges were related to Banks and Hoke.
Leone, who has earned a long list of Coast Guard awards and accolades, was the sole survivor. He recovered from injuries and had been cleared for flight re-training when he was charged.
The charge sheet alleged Leone failed to properly navigate the helicopter to avoid charted hazards and that he negligently failed to ensure it was flying at a higher altitude. It also alleges that he did “without proper authority, through neglect, destroy by causing the crash of CG-6017,” an aircraft valued at $18.3 million.
In January, the investigating officer who presided over a three-day military hearing, Capt. Andrew Norris, recommended the charges be dismissed.
He said he didn’t conclude that Leone was faultless but said the charges focus on alleged navigational failures by Leone and tie those to the destruction of a helicopter and death of two crew members.
“It is in this focus, and in making this tie, that I believe the charged offenses fail,” he wrote.
Norris also investigated whether Leone was derelict in his duty for not advising Krueger that they were flying too low at certain points in the flight and recommending a rise in altitude.
This charge arose from the hearing, and prosecutors said they didn’t seek it Norris, in his report, said he believed “reasonable grounds” existed to believe that Leone had “committed the crime of negligent dereliction of duty” for not questioning or speaking up about the altitude. But he said proving that required speculation as to what Krueger may have done if Leone had spoken up, and he said he doesn’t the government could prove this link “to a reasonable fact-finder.”
Norris said he didn’t believe disciplinary action was warranted in that instance but said it could be addressed through training and other “non-punitive measures.”
Rear Admiral Thomas Ostebo was not bound by the recommendations.