Lawmaker Demands Records on Fatal Marines Plane Crash

(CN) – Republican Congressman Walter Jones of North Carolina claims in a federal lawsuit that the Defense Department continues to conceal details about an April 2000 plane crash that killed 19 Marines.

The Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Washington, D.C., federal court, stems from Jones’ advocacy on behalf of families of those who died.

The politician claims the U.S. Department of Defense has neglected to respond to FOIA requests for information surrounding the April 8, 2000, crash at a regional airport in Marana, Ariz.

The complaint claims records will reveal that the cause was not pilots’ error, as the government claimed.

“After nearly two decades, the memories of the 19 Marines who lost their lives that fateful evening deserve to be honored with a public accounting of the entirety of what transpired and led to their unfortunate deaths,” the lawsuit states.

Rep. Jones and co-plaintiff The James Madison Project claim maintenance records for the MV-22 Osprey aircraft were falsified and that the plane needed a warning system for “vortex ring state syndrome,” which was seen in the fatal Marines crash. A panel recommended that warning system the year after the incident.

In addition to Jones and The James Madison Project, a widow and two sons of one Marine and the widow of another are named as plaintiffs in the complaint.

They dispute the U.S. Marine Corps’ conclusion that “the pilots’ drive to accomplish that mission appears to have been the fatal factor.”

“Subsequent media reporting…revealed two of the USMC’s highest ranking officers, Brigadier General James Amos and Lieutenant General Fred McCorkle, discussing in a November 21, 2000, e-mail the ‘mission capable’ rate of the Osprey aircraft,” the lawsuit states. “In the e-mail, General Amos reported that the Osprey aircraft’s mission capable rate during the first part of November 2000 was 26.7 percent. In a press conference a mere nine days later, however, General Amos stated that the mission capable rate had been 73.2 percent.”

The Osprey program was known to be plagued with safety concerns for years prior to crash, according to the complaint, as former President George H.W. Bush nearly shut it down in 1991.

Jones and his co-plaintiffs say they filed FOIA requests about the crash with the Marine Corps, Navy and Defense Department on June 20 of this year, but have not gotten a response.

They seek a court order for disclosure of the requested records, and are represented by Mark Zaid in Washington, D.C.

The Defense Department did not immediately respond Wednesday to an emailed request for comment.

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