Two MV-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft attached to the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit. Marine Corps photo by 1st Lt. Mark Andries.

The families of four Marines who died when their MV-22 Osprey seized up and crashed on a routine training flight say the companies that built the troubled plane made “intentionally” or “recklessly false statements” about its safety, and put the Marines into an “unsafe and unairworthy aircraft.”

In a federal lawsuit filed Thursday in San Diego, the families of four Marines killed on Swift 11 — an Osprey flight that crashed in 2022 after suffering catastrophic engine failure during routine training in California — say aerospace giants Boening, Bell Textron, and Rolls Royce “supplied false information about the safety of the aircraft” to government and military officials.

Boeing and Bell Textron are the two lead contractors who build the Osprey. Rolls Royce builds the Osprey’s engines. A Marine Corps investigation of the crash found that the $90 million aircraft suffered a “hard clutch engagement,” or HCE failure within its transmission, which caused its engines to fail, a catastrophic failure that gave the crew no chance to survive.

“There were no prior indications of an impending dual HCE event, no steps that [Swift 11’s pilots] could have taken to prevent its occurrence, and no means of recovery once the compound emergency commenced,” investigators said. The report also cleared maintenance troops at Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 364 of any responsibility, deciding that no mechanical fix would have prevented the HCE.

In the lawsuit, the families of the Swift 11 crash say responsibility for the mysterious failure lies with the Osprey’s manufacturers. In a statement sent to Task & Purpose, an attorney representing the families said the crash was due to “negligence, negligent misrepresentation, and fraudulent misrepresentation” by the companies “for failing to make truthful statements to the government and to service members about the design, operation, and safety of V-22 Osprey aircraft.”

Officials with Boeing and Rolls Royce did not immediately respond to the emails sent by Task & Purpose seeking comment on the lawsuit. The Marine Corps does not generally comment on ongoing investigations.

Though the root of the HCE failure remains a mystery, the Osprey’s engines and transmission have been behind over a dozen Osprey incidents in the last decade, many of them fatal.

The Swift 11 crash was one of the deadliest of those incidents. The San Diego-based Marine MV-22 crashed on June 8, 2022, killing pilots Capt. John J. Sax, 33, and Capt. Nicholas P. Losapio, 31; and three crew members, Cpl. Nathan E. Carlson, 21, Cpl. Seth D. Rasmuson, 21, and Lance Cpl. Evan A. Strickland, 19.

A command investigation released by the Marine Corps found that five Marines killed in June 2022 Osprey crash were not at fault in the accident. Top, Capt. John J. Sax, Capt. Nicholas P. Losapio; Bottom: Cpl. Nathan E. Carlson, Cpl. Seth D. Rasmuson, and Lance Cpl. Evan A. Strickland.
A command investigation released by the Marine Corps found that five Marines killed in June 2022 Osprey crash were not at fault in the accident. Top, Capt. John J. Sax, Capt. Nicholas P. Losapio; Bottom: Cpl. Nathan E. Carlson, Cpl. Seth D. Rasmuson, and Lance Cpl. Evan A. Strickland.

The lawsuit was filed by family members of four of the five Marines — Sax’s widow Amber Sax; Rasmuson’s widow Avery Rasmuson; Carlson’s widow Emily Baxter; and Strickland’s parents, Wayland and Michelle Strickland.

Engine problems across Osprey fleet

In a 400-page report released Friday, July 21, Marine investigators confirmed that Swift 11 suffered a dual hard clutch engagement. The report walks through every detail of the flight, from the age of the Osprey’s engines to how many hours of sleep the crew got the night before. The crash occurred as Swift 11 and a sister ship conducted routine gunnery training, the pilots guiding the two Ospreys through a series of passes over a target on the ground as the crew chiefs in back took turns firing the plane’s .50 caliber machine gun.

The accident occurred so suddenly that the crew of Swift 12, according to the report, only realized something was wrong when one of the crew spotted a column of smoke coming from a fire on the ground near the target. No one on board Swift 12 saw Swift 11 fall or crash, and the crew sent no distress signal.

After spotting the fire, the Marines on Swift 12 called Swift 11, fearing the worst, and got no response. Looping back toward the smoke column, the crew recognized in the fire the distinctive oversized propellers of an Osprey.

“That’s them,” the pilot told the crew.

The fire in the minutes after the crash was so intense that it destroyed Swift 11’s onboard flight recorder.

Dual hard clutch engagements — which can cause an Osprey engine to seize and shred itself during flight — have plagued the Osprey fleet. Both the Marines and Air Force fly the tiltrotor aircraft, and both services have reported HCE events. 

Prior to the Swift 11 crash, the investigation found, Ospreys had reported 15 HCE failures in 680,000 flight hours across both services, 10 of which occurred within 3 seconds of take-off (Ospreys take off vertically, like a helicopter). Failures in flight, like the one that struck the Pendleton Osprey in June 2002, were rarer but nearly always catastrophic.

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