A private contracting firm flying in Afghanistan for the U.S. military was in violation of numerous government regulations and contract requirements when one of its planes crashed into a mountainside in November 2004, killing all six on board, according to an Army report made public yesterday.
The families of the three soldiers killed -- Lt. Col. Michael McMahon, Chief Warrant Officer Travis Grogan and Spec. Harley Miller -- have filed a wrongful death suit in U.S. District Court in Florida against the contractor, alleging negligence.
The four contracting firms named as defendants -- Aviation Worldwide Services LLC, Presidential Airways Inc., STI Aviation Inc. and Air Quest Inc. -- are all Florida-based subsidiaries of the Prince Group. Prince's military contracting arm operates as Blackwater USA, a firm that has gained prominence for its role providing armed security forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and, more recently, the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
The Army's Collateral Investigation Board report on the accident was released months ago with many of the findings blacked out. Yesterday, a complete copy of the report released by the families' attorney showed that investigators faulted the pilots for "poor navigation and decision making." It also found that weather, mechanical problems and enemy fire had not been factors in the crash.
The contractor had not provided proper in-country training for the plane's crew, had paired pilots who lacked experience in Afghanistan and had not supplied necessary communications equipment, the report said.
Robert F. Spohrer, the attorney for the families, said the report provides evidence that the contractor was "cutting corners" in its service to the armed forces. "If they're going to outsource to corporations services like flying personnel around Afghanistan, they must do it with corporations that put the safety of our men and women in uniform ahead of corporate profits. Sadly, that wasn't done here," Spohrer said.
Presidential Airways questioned the Army report's findings yesterday. "The United States National Transportation Safety Board is investigating this accident and has yet to conclude its investigation," it said in a statement. It added that the Army report "was concluded in only two weeks and contains numerous errors, misstatements, and unfounded assumptions."