Article 32 hearing underway in Juneau

NOTE: This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

A hearing is now underway in Juneau for a Coast Guard officer facing charges related to the deaths of two of his crewmates during a crash off the coast of Washington last year.

Lieutenant Lance Leone was the co-pilot of a Coast Guard H-60 helicopter being flown to its new assigned station in Sitka in July 2010. It crashed after striking power lines near La Push, Washington. Leone was the only survivor. Lieutenant Sean Krueger — the pilot — and Aviation Maintenance Technicians Adam Hoke and Brett Banks were killed.

In testimony today (Wednesday), a civilian helicopter pilot who witnessed the H-60 flying near Long Beach said it appeared to be flying about 150-feet off the ground and as fast as 150-knots on the day of the crash. Under cross examination she admitted she had sent an email to a Coast Guard officer days after the crash that indicated the chopper wasn’t flying quite that low or fast.

A Coast Guard mishap investigator testified that Leone’s helicopter traveled at an altitude that was too low and violated regulations for flight through two wildlife refuges. He also said the chopper was traveling at about 125-knots for most of the flight. That’s considered the normal maximum operational airspeed for preservation of the aircraft’s mechanics.

At this hour (noon), Leone’s defense counsel, government counsel, and the hearing’s investigating officer are listening to cockpit voice recorder tapes behind closed doors. The Article 32 hearing will reconvene afterward. The hearing is much like a grand jury proceeding or preliminary hearing in civilian criminal court, but the accused has the right to refute the government’s evidence or cross- examine witnesses.

Proceedings are now expected to last into Friday before the hearing’s investigating officer drafts a set of recommendations. He could call for dismissal of the charges, administrative or internal discipline, or a general court martial on the charges.

Today’s proceedings are being observed by Leone’s wife, father, stepmother, friends from Sitka, and other Coast Guardsmen who served with him. Kyla Krueger, widow of pilot Sean Krueger, has come from Florida to attend the hearing and support Leone.

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