Military aircraft crashes have steadily declined over the past 20 years, but they still cost the Defense Department more than $1 billion a year, congressional investigators said Monday.
The General Accounting Office report found that human error is a factor in three-quarters of all crashes.
Investigators found that the number of military air crashes dropped from 309 in 1975 to 76 last year. Deaths declined from 285 to 85.
Rep. Ike Skelton, who requested the study, said he was surprised at the findings.
“The increased media coverage of these accidents left an impression we were seeing higher numbers of crashes and deaths,” said Skelton, D-Mo., a senior member of the House National Security Committee.
“While this report offers little consolation to those who have lost loved ones, it shows that military aviation safety has improved,” Skelton said.
The most recent military crash occurred Jan. 29 in Nashville, Tenn., when a Navy F-14 slammed into a residential neighborhood shortly after takeoff, killing two crew members and three people on the ground.
The commander of that squadron, Cmdr. Fred Kilian, has been relieved of his command because of its poor safety record.
The GAO found that human error was a factor in 73 percent of the military crashes. The errors included those by pilots as well as mistakes made by maintenance crews and air traffic controllers.
The study focused on accidents involving all Pentagon aircraft that resulted in a death or permanent disability, a destroyed aircraft or damage of $1 million or more. Crashes stemming from combat were not included.
Over the 20 years covered by the study, these crashes have cost the military $21 billion, including $1.3 billion in 1995.
During that period, there were 3,828 military air crashes that killed 3,810 people and destroyed 3,483 aircraft.
The report also raised some questions about the independence of the Army, Air Force and Navy investigative boards that examine the crashes.
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