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Osprey probe: Pentagon urged to 'do the right thing'

The MV- 22 Osprey  

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'Legitimate and serious safety concerns'

'This wonderful life'

Osprey defended


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Widows of three Marines killed in MV-22 Osprey crashes urged the Pentagon Friday to return the plane to its manufacturers for further review.

A Pentagon panel reviewing the program heard emotional testimony in its first public hearing into the Osprey -- which can tilt its engines and propellers to take off like a helicopter and fly like an airplane.

The Marine Corps has been counting on the Osprey to replace its aging fleet of transport helicopters. Two crashes last year that killed 23 Marines have put the program on hold while the Pentagon evaluates its future.

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Family members of killed Osprey pilots ask the Pentagon to hold accountable those who knew the dangers of the aircraft

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The panel is expected to complete its work in April. The tilt-rotor craft also has come under increasing scrutiny after an audiotape was released in January in which the commanding officer of the Marines' Osprey squadron told subordinates to "lie," "manipulate" and falsify maintenance records because the "program is in jeopardy."

'Legitimate and serious safety concerns'

Stacey Nelson, whose husband Brian Nelson was killed last April along with 18 other Marines aboard an Osprey in Arizona, said she and other relatives of those killed believe there are "legitimate and serious safety concerns" with the craft.

"Our first and gravest priority is simply to ensure that no other Marine is asked to give his life until this aircraft is safe and until it is determined to be ready for the Marine Corps' mission," Nelson said.

She urged the panel to remember the "life's blood of my husband and 22 other brave Marines (who are) now and forever more part of this program." She said those Marines "would implore you to see that no stone is left unturned, no question left unanswered."

"The best plan of action for the Osprey is to return it to the companies that built it and require them to perform all the necessary testing to understand the existing dangers and then fix those problems," said Nelson, dressed in a black suit.

The Osprey is built jointly by Bell Helicopter Textron and Boeing. The remaining fleet of eight Ospreys has been grounded pending the Pentagon's investigation.

crash scene
An April 8, 2000, Osprey crash killed 19 Marines  

'This wonderful life'

Nelson read from a letter she received from her husband on the day he was killed, April 8, 2000.

"You've given me this wonderful life and I thank you for it," her husband wrote, doting on pictures he received of his young daughter. "I love you very much. Well, I'm going to work. Love, Brian"

The mother of two sobbed as she read the note, dabbing her eyes with a tissue. The couple's second child was born after her husband's death.

"Brian never saw the family he loved again," she said.

Connie Gruber, whose husband Brooks was the pilot in the April crash, said, "I have confidence the Marine Corps will do the right thing."

Earlier, a former helicopter and fixed-wing pilot testified the Osprey is "not ready for prime time" and recommended that the Pentagon panel pressure its manufacturers to review and fix problems with the tilt-rotor craft.

"We're not in combat the last time I checked. We've got some time," said Brian Alexander, an attorney who gave a technical presentation about the craft.

"Do not allow the money to drive the train," Alexander said. "Do not allow deadlines to drive the train."

At another point, he said, "It is not ready for prime time. Why are we rushing it? Slow down, make it right. If I know anything, it is that our Marine Corps deserves that."

The "life's blood of my husband and 22 other brave Marines (who are) now and forever more part of this program," Nelson said  

Osprey defended

Frank Gaffney, the president of the Center for Security Policy, urged the panel not to do away with the program.

"Were we to cancel it outright, I am convinced that what we will do is not only set back the effort to advance our military and its performance of missions ... (but) we will wind up paying in a currency that we hold particularly dear. And that's the lives of Marines and other service personnel," Gaffney said.

The Marines have already invested $10 billion in the Osprey program and plan to spend about $30 billion more to produce 360 Ospreys. Air Force Special Operations also is planning to receive 50 Ospreys; the Navy plans to purchase a number of the craft as well.

An investigation into the Arizona crash blamed the pilot for pushing the craft beyond its allowable parameters during a fast landing.

A December crash in North Carolina killed all four Marines aboard. Investigators are still looking into that crash but believe it was caused by a mechanical problem.

Marines turn Osprey investigation over to Pentagon
January 24, 2001
Officer admits asking Marines to falsify Osprey records, official says
January 19, 2001
Osprey commander caught on tape
January 19, 2001
Marines probe Osprey commander's alleged falsification of maintenance records
January 18, 2001
Marines investigate Osprey commander
January 18, 2001

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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