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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, May 6, 2005

Army pilot pleads guilty in fatal crash

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

WAHIAWA — A Schofield Barracks pilot yesterday admitted he was showing off when he put his Black Hawk helicopter in a steep dive and crashed in Afghanistan, killing one soldier and injuring most of the 11 Marines on board.

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Darrin R. Rogers

At his court-martial yesterday, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Darrin R. Rogers pleaded guilty to negligent homicide, reckless endangerment, violating an order and destruction of government property — the $4.5 million Black Hawk — in the Aug. 12 crash near the Pakistan border.

In a plea agreement, Rogers will serve 120 days at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas and forfeit pay.

The plea agreement superceded yesterday's sentencing by a military judge. The judge had sentenced Rogers, 37, of Mililani, to 50 months in prison, forfeiture of all pay and benefits and dismissal from the Army.

The plea agreement also forces Rogers, who has been in the Army nearly 20 years, to retire, but he'll be able to collect retirement pay and benefits.

Maj. Gen. Eric T. Olson, the commander of the 25th Infantry Division (Light), still has to finalize the plea agreement.

The crash happened outside of Khowst during a demonstration for then Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Jones.

Sgt. Daniel Lee Galvan, a 30-year-old father of two from Moore, Okla., and crew chief on the Black Hawk, was killed when he received a blow to his sternum in the crash. His aorta tore and he bled to death.

"I've always felt that that (the plea deal) was not the justice required for my son," said the soldier's father, Blas Galvan, a retired Army master sergeant.

Galvan's widow, Sonya, said after the nearly 12-hour court-martial proceedings at Wheeler Army Airfield that "I'm pleased that he'll never be able to fly again and that he can't do this to somebody else."

The crash also is a tragedy for the Rogers family, and military officials said it gave the Army aviation community at Schofield a black eye.

Rogers, a pilot instructor with the 2nd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment, said his wife has had severe emotional issues.

"Sgt. Galvan and I were close friends and we enjoyed flying together," Rogers said. "I grieve for Mrs. Galvan and am truly sorry for what has happened."

The Army career and piloting skills that Rogers built up also have been dashed.

"The Army is all I have ever known, and a career soldier is all I ever wanted to be," said Rogers.

The crash occurred while Rogers, flying with another Black Hawk and two Marine Cobras, waited to take part in a demonstration of a "quick reaction force" at Forward Operating Base Salerno less than 10 miles from the Pakistan border.

Sgt. Leonard Murray, one of 11 Marines on board Rogers' Black Hawk, testified yesterday that motivation was running a little low, and he said, "C'mon sir, let's give my boys a ride."

"He (Rogers) came back a few seconds later and said, 'OK, you guys asked for it,' " Murray added.

Murray said the Black Hawk climbed nearly straight up, and then almost straight down.

Rogers admitted that during the "high visibility" demonstration for the Marine Corps commandant, Lt. Col. Michael L. Maffett, the acting battalion commander for 2-25, had said "he wanted to be extra safe that day. Don't try to impress anybody."

Instead, while waiting for the OK to conduct the demonstration and flying in circles several miles from Salerno, Rogers decided to give the Marines the "ride" they were looking for.

"So you were just showing off?" asked Judge Col. Debra L. Boudreau.

"Yes ma'am," Rogers said. "Basically, I was trying to impress the guys in the back."

He said that as the helicopter descended, a set of wheel chocks drifted into the cockpit, jamming the controls and preventing him from pulling out of the dive.

Rogers said the maneuver was done at 200 to 300 feet, and when he trains for such flying, it's at 1,000 feet.

The helicopter crashed, rotated and flipped on its side, destroying it. Those onboard received fractures to vertebrae, head wounds, broken ankles and other injuries.

Defense attorney Capt. Darwin T. Strickland said a report showed Galvan was not in his five-point harness, but video from the start of the flight showed him in the harness.

Galvan's widow and parents testified about the loss of the husband and son.

Nelda Galvan said her son "loved his job. He was the happiest when he was up there in the air."

She also said her son saw Rogers as a mentor. The crash "has destroyed my life," she said.

A succession of soldiers also spoke about Rogers as a good pilot and soldier.

Asked to rate Rogers as an instructor pilot, 1st Sgt. Zacchaeus Hurst said, "He's probably in the top 1 percent."

Reach William Cole at wcole@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-5459.