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Report: Pilot in crash behind on training

Jun. 28, 2009 - 08:05AM   |   Last Updated: Jun. 28, 2009 - 08:05AM  |  
Navy Cmdr. Llewellyn Lewis was piloting this modified P-3 Orion when it skidded off the runway Oct. 20 at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan. The starboard landing gear was sheared off, two starboard side propellers broke off and the right wing caught fire.
Navy Cmdr. Llewellyn Lewis was piloting this modified P-3 Orion when it skidded off the runway Oct. 20 at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan. The starboard landing gear was sheared off, two starboard side propellers broke off and the right wing caught fire. (NAVY)
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Navy Cmdr. Llewellyn Lewis was piloting this modified P-3 Orion when it skidded off the runway Oct. 20 at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan. The starboard landing gear was sheared off, two starboard side propellers broke off and the right wing caught fire. (NAVY)
Navy Cmdr. Llewellyn Lewis was piloting this modified P-3 Orion when it skidded off the runway Oct. 20 at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan. The starboard landing gear was sheared off, two starboard side propellers broke off and the right wing caught fire. (NAVY)
Navy Cmdr. Llewellyn Lewis was piloting this modified P-3 Orion when it skidded off the runway Oct. 20 at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan. The starboard landing gear was sheared off, two starboard side propellers broke off and the right wing caught fire. (NAVY)

The commanding officer of a P-3 Orion squadron who overshot a runway and crashed a specialized $93 million plane in Afghanistan last year was not current on his flight-hour requirements and was violating Navy rules prohibiting jet-lagged pilots from flying, investigators found.

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The commanding officer of a P-3 Orion squadron who overshot a runway and crashed a specialized $93 million plane in Afghanistan last year was not current on his flight-hour requirements and was violating Navy rules prohibiting jet-lagged pilots from flying, investigators found.

Cmdr. Llewellyn Lewis, 41, was fired shortly after the Oct. 20 mishap when he was piloting the P-3 that missed the runway and went up in flames at Bagram Air Base. He was the commanding officer of Special Projects Patrol Squadron 1 based at Naval Air Station Brunswick, Maine.

Lewis brought the plane in too fast, hit the brakes and skidded off the runway. The starboard landing gear was sheared off, two starboard side propellers broke off and the right wing caught fire as the plane came to a stop, an investigation found. One crew member suffered a twisted ankle and all five walked away from the aircraft.

Lewis had failed to meet the pilot proficiency requirements — at least 10 flight hours per month — for five of the six months preceding the crash, according to the Judge Advocate General Manual report, or JAGMan.

Lewis assigned himself as pilot of the plane after he had traveled across 9˝ time zones during the previous 46 hours. Despite regulations requiring several days of rest after such a trip, he took the controls 14 hours after arriving at a forward operating base, the name of which was redacted.

"[Lewis] failed to exercise sound and reasonable judgment and through his negligence he destroyed the aircraft and put the crew in unnecessary danger. He didn't know or understand he did not have sufficient runway to stop the aircraft," the report concludes.

He "could have and should have" aborted the landing and tried again, the report says.

According to the report, Lewis was unable to sign for the aircraft because his name was not in the maintenance database. But, the report said, he told the crew: "No question here. I am the CO and this is my aircraft."

A crew member told investigators that Lewis "had to be coached on nearly all aspects of the combat arrival."

When asked why he failed to maintain pilot proficiency, Lewis "said that CO duties, his desire to spread flight time with junior pilots and aircraft availability" were factors.

But Lewis' commander said: "I found his excuses for not flying to be unpersuasive. He was not setting the proper example for his squadron," according to the report.

Under Navy rules, pilots should allow an additional day for each hour exceeding a three-hour time change. When asked why he didn't follow those guidelines, Lewis told investigators, "That's never been our culture."

Just before the crash, Lewis failed to run through the landing checklist at 500 feet. He told investigators that the checklist is "just a technique."

Lewis tried to blame the crash in part on the cockpit arrangement, saying he "did not have airspeed in my scan as much as I would" in other versions of the P-3. But investigators said there was no significant difference in the placement of the airspeed indicator in the various aircraft models Lewis flew.

After the crash, when he climbed out of the burning plane, Lewis laid down on the wing and put his hands over his head. He said he "stopped there for a second, when the enormity of the whole thing hit him."

Two flight engineers grabbed his boot and yanked him off the wing as a crash crew responded to extinguish the flames.

VPU-1 flies a specialized version of the recon plane, the P-3 "Reef Point," which includes additional long-range cameras and electro-optical sensors.

After he was relieved of command, Lewis was assigned to Joint Special Operations Command, Aviation Tactics Evaluation Group, at Fort Bragg, N.C., Navy records show.

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