This image from the Marine Corps shows a deadly event that occurred on October 1 last year. The crew flew the Osprey in maintenance mode by accident, which greatly reduced engine power output. The harrowing story of heroics and the loss of a young Marine’s life, is a must read in this article by the San Diego Union Tribune.

After taking off and quickly losing altitude, the pilots stayed with the aircraft while the two crew chiefs bailed out the back. Only one survived. Even the survivor barely made it, as he was weighted down by his flack jacket, wearing a semi-defective life preserver and covered in jet fuel. Meanwhile, the pilots continued to dump fuel while the aircraft struggled partially submerged.

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Finally, after porpoising in and out of the water and struggling for ten minutes, the Osprey began to gain altitude. The pilots chose to put it abruptly back on the ship’s deck while fuel continued to be dumped from its tanks, running from the aircraft abruptly after touchdown for fear that the Osprey’s hot exhaust would ignite the fuel on the deck.

Apparently, the pilots had no warning that the aircraft was in maintenance mode, which was accidentally set that way by one of its handlers before departure. This, combined with rushing a checklist were the main causes of incident, but a change in the software that reduced the aircraft’s engine power by 20% in maintenance mode, known to have existed by the USMC, was indirectly the cause as well.

The dangerous glitch, which is now fixed, is just one more reminder that as aircraft continue to get ever more complex in the hopes of making them safer, with millions of lines of code in their software systems, they can also be much more unpredictable and their ailments harder to diagnose on the fly. This is especially true when human error is also entered into the equation.

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The death of Cpl. Jordan Spears, whose body was never recovered, would go down as the first loss of an American life as part of Operation Allied Resolve, the ambiguous campaign against ISIS that continues to this day. As for the aircraft, it was fixed at a cost of around $1,500,000.

Photo credit U.S. Marine Corps


Contact the author at Tyler@jalopnik.com.