WASHINGTON, Feb 5 (Reuters) - The U.S. Navy on Thursday said it was launching a more intensive effort to ensure that any wiring or fuel line problems with its CH-53E and MH-53E heavy-lift helicopters are corrected as quickly and effectively as possible.
The Navy first ordered inspections of the Sikorsky Aircraft helicopters in February 2014 to find and fix any sign of the damaged fuel lines and wires that caused a January 2014 crash of an MH-53E Sea Dragon that killed three crew members.
But top Navy officials have now ordered a renewed focus on the issues after random checks last month showed that many of the initial inspections had not been thorough, and 70 percent of the 28 aircraft inspected still had discrepancies and problems.
The helicopters were built by Sikorsky Aircraft, a unit of United Technologies Corp and first entered service in the 1980s.
“Correcting the causal factors in the Jan. 8, 2014 MH mishap is paramount to the CH/MH-53 community,” said Kelly Burdick, a spokeswoman for Naval Air Systems Command, or Navair, the Navy command that oversees aircraft programs.
After reviewing the assessment done in mid-January, officials agreed “that a more intensive effort was warranted to ensure full mitigation of any wiring or fuel line discrepancies can be completed as quickly and effectively as possible,” Burdick said.
Colonel Hank Vanderborght, program director for the CH-53 and MH-53 helicopter programs, raised concerns about the inspections in a 11-page briefing that was first reported by the Virginian-Pilot, a Virginia-based newspaper, on Thursday.
“...The risk of cabin fire was not mitigated and the hazard of chafing on fluid-carrying lines and wires was not eliminated,” Vanderborght wrote.
The newspaper also quoted an email from a Marine Corps officer who said, “We don’t need another mishap as a result of chafing wire on a fuel line.”
One of the Navy’s MH-53E helicopters was forced to land in Kuwait last month after two wires chafed, causing an electrical arc that sparked a small fire, according to the newspaper.
Burdick said the Navy was committed to ensuring the safety of the aging helicopters, which are slated to remain in service until the mid- to late-2020s, and any discrepancies are addressed immediately.
As of April 2014, the Navy had 152 of the CH-53E Super Stallions, and 28 MH-53E Sea Dragons, according to a Navair website. (Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)