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Jul 9, 7:37 AM EDT

Investigation blames birds for US helicopter crash

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LONDON (AP) -- Geese penetrated the windscreen of an HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter during evening training mission in January, disabling the pilot and co-pilot and leading to the crash that killed four U.S. Air Force crewmembers, a military investigation revealed Wednesday.

The helicopter crashed on the eastern coast of England while practicing nighttime rescue mission scenario for a downed F1-6 pilot. The Pave Hawk was flying over grass-covered marshland near Cley next the Sea when geese, likely startled by the noise rose in flight and hit the helicopter flying at about 110 feet (34 meters) above ground level.

Investigators concluded that at least three geese hit the windscreen, disabling the pilot, co-pilot and the aerial gunner. All three were rendered unconscious. One goose also hit the nose of the aircraft, disabling the trim and flight path stabilization systems.

With both pilots unconscious, and stabilization systems disabled, the helicopter banked left to the point it had no vertical lift. It crashed about three seconds after being struck by the geese, investigators said.

The U.S. Air Force identified the victims as Capt. Christopher S. Stover and Capt. Sean M. Ruane, who were piloting the plane; Tech. Sgt. Dale E. Mathews, and SSgt Afton M. Ponce.

The Pave Hawk was assigned to the 48th Fighter Wing and based at the Royal Air Force station in Lakenheath.

A modified version of the better-known Black Hawks, the Pave Hawk is mostly used for combat search-and-rescue missions, such as recovering downed air crew members in hostile situations. They practice flying low, and have been deployed in military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.

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