WASHINGTON -- The commandant of the Marine Corps grounded all MV-22 Osprey aircraft Tuesday following a crash in North Carolina that killed four Marines and raised new doubts about the future of the tilt-rotor plane.
Gen. James L. Jones, the commandant, also asked Defense Secretary William Cohen to convene a panel of experts to review the troubled $40 billion program, said Marine Corps spokesman Maj. Dave Andersen at the Pentagon.
An Osprey crashed Monday night in a forested area near Jacksonville, N.C., killing all four Marines aboard. It was the second fatal Osprey accident this year. In April an Osprey crashed while attempting to land at an airport in Arizona, killing all 19 Marines aboard. Human error was blamed for that accident.
At Marine Corps headquarters, Andersen said Jones has asked the Pentagon to delay indefinitely a decision that was due this month on giving the go-ahead to begin full-rate production of the Osprey, which is a revolutionary tilt-rotor aircraft that takes off and lands like a helicopter and flies like an airplane.
Jones wants the decision put off "until further information is gathered" regarding the Jacksonville crash, Andersen said.
The four killed in Monday night's crash were identified by Marine Corps headquarters as: Lt. Col. Keith M. Sweaney, 42, of Richmond, Va.; Maj. Michael L. Murphy, 38, of Blauvelt, N.Y.; Staff Sgt. Avely W. Runnels, 25, of Morven, Ga.; and Sgt. Jason A. Buyck, 24, of Sodus, N.Y.
The Jacksonville crash is under investigation. The last communication with the aircraft, based at the Marine Corps Air Station at New River, N.C., was a mayday call received at 7:27 p.m., officials said.
"The rotors got real loud, and it disappeared behind a tree," said Mark Calnan, who lives near the crash site in a southeastern North Carolina forest. "There was an orange flash, a great big one. Then I heard a pop. It crackled like thunder."
The Osprey program has had a troubled history. A prototype version crashed in June 1991 while undergoing its first flight in Delaware, and in July 1992 another prototype Osprey crashed near Quantico, Va., killing seven people.
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