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Attorney: Crash survivor gets 'career killer' report

Posted: April 25, 2012 - 12:03am

JUNEAU — The U.S. Coast Guard commander for Alaska is recommending that Lt. Lance Leone, the sole survivor of a 2010 Coast Guard helicopter crash, not be promoted or involved in flight operations again, an attorney for Leone said Tuesday.

Attorney John Smith called Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo’s recommendations a “career killer,” and said Leone would appeal.

In March, Ostebo dismissed negligent homicide and other charges against Leone in connection with the crash, a decision in line with the recommendations of an investigating officer who oversaw a three-day military hearing in December. But in administrative remarks for Leone’s personnel file, Ostebo found that Leone’s actions directly contributed to the deaths of his three colleagues and destruction of the aircraft. The Coast Guard’s final report on the crash also found that a lack of communication and a failure by Leone and pilot Sean Krueger to properly perform their duties contributed to the crash.

Leone was co-pilot of an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter flying from Astoria, Ore., to the crew’s base in Sitka when it hit an unmarked span of low-hanging wires and crashed off the Washington coast in July 2010. Killed in the crash were Krueger and crewmen Brett Banks and Adam C. Hoke.

Leone, 31, had recovered from his injuries and been cleared for flight re-training when he was charged last year with negligent homicide, dereliction of duty and destruction of government property. He was accused of not actively navigating or challenging Krueger’s decision to drop in altitude seconds before the helicopter hit the 1,900-foot span of wires maintained by the Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard’s vice commandant, in the final crash report, found that a lack of adequate markings on the power transmission lines — the site of at least two other accidents — may have contributed to the crash.

Smith has called the report “flawed and biased.”

“I think that the final real insult to all of this is the Coast Guard is doing this, they are taking advantage of Lt. Leone to hide their own misconduct in attention to detail and, quite frankly, their own criminality,” he said.

Coast Guard spokesman Kip Wadlow confirmed that Leone is being transferred but said policy prevents him from releasing personnel information without a member’s permission

Smith said Ostebo’s latest recommendations came in a report that Leone received this week. Smith said Leone, who he said was in line for a promotion, is being reassigned next month to San Antonio, where he is to serve as a Coast Guard liaison to a military health system.

“It’s really a nothing job, and he’s not happy about that,” Smith said.

He said Leone’s legal team would keep working to ensure he gets his promotion and has the negative evaluation reports overturned and pulled from his record.

He said he knows of no other case where an aviator who survived a crash and was physically able to fly had not been allowed to do so if he chose to.

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