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Report: Commander Faulted For Deadly Accident On San Diego-Based USS Lawrence

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Cmdr. Jana A. Vavasseur

An accident on the flight deck of the USS William P. Lawrence that claimed the lives of Navy pilots Lt. Cmdr. Landon L. Jones, 35, and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jonathan S. Gibson, 32, was the fault of the commanding officer Cmdr. Jana A. Vavasseur - according to the Navy admiral overseeing the investigation.

Stars and Stripes examined the investigation report, and quotes Vice Adm. D.H. Buss (commander of Naval Air Forces) as saying:

“In this evolution, a series of seemingly minor, innocuous misjudgments had a cumulative catastrophic outcome when graded by the harshness and unforgiving nature of operations at sea.”

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Chief Warrant Officer Jonathon S. Gibson

The Sept. 22, 2013 accident was initially blamed on a "rogue wave" that hit the Lawrence, causing an MH-60S helicopter (with Jones and Gibson still inside) to break its chains and slide off the flight deck and into the Red Sea - as Home Post reported last year.

But in the investigative report, U.S. Pacific Fleet commanding officer Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr. felt the evidence proved otherwise:

Harris faulted a decision by... Vavasseur to turn the ship immediately after the helicopter landed on the flight deck. Combined with the ship’s speed, the move put the vessel into rough “quartering seas,” he said, causing it to roll as large waves hit the deck.

It should be noted that the conclusions of Harris and Buss differ from the investigating officers who put the report together:

They found that although the new course “likely put the ship in a position to experience the large rolls ... it was not reasonably foreseeable that such a large roll or rolls would occur.”

According to NavalToday.com, Cmdr. Chanden Langhofer relieved Vavasseur as commanding officer of the USS William P. Lawrence on Dec. 17, 2013.

Stars and Stripes reports Harris is promising “appropriate administrative action” against Vavasseur.

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