SSGT William C. Dame


Staff Sgt. William C. Dame, an Explosive Ordnance Disposal specialist, assigned to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit Support Service Group, attached to Camp Pendleton, of Yuma, Arizona. 

December 9th, 1999, a routine training exercise with the USNS Pecos off the coast of Point Loma and a CH-46D / Sea Hawk loaded with Marines, Navy, Ammunition, and gear.  

At 12:47 p.m. the CH-46D, Naval Bureau Number 154790 and assigned to Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 166 (HMM-166), lifted off from the USS Bonhomme Richard, an amphibious assault helicopter carrier. 

At 1:06 PM., with 10 miles of flight visibility, a gentle 3-knot breeze, and an air temperature of 60 degrees, the helicopter was given approval by the Pecos to begin its approach.

Aboard the Pecos, the chief mate of the vessel, assigned that day as a landing safety officer, saw the helicopter about a hundred yards away from the ship, and began to provide arm and hand signals for the pilots to increase power and altitude.  

But he was dressed in white, not the traditional yellow for landing safety officers, so the pilot, Captain James I. Lukehart, & co-pilot Captain Andrew Q. Smith, ignored his instructions. They continued downward, low and fast. At a routine briefing on the sortie back on the Bonhomme Richard, no one had told them that the designated landing safety officer would be wearing white. Seeing the helicopter coming in hot, a Navy captain, overseeing the operation aboard the Pecos, screamed “Power!” into the radio.

No one aboard the Sea Knight heard the instructions, and neither pilot responded. The landing safety officer began to motion frantically that the helicopter was coming in too low. At the same time, Johns told the pilots, “Looking good and keep driving it in.” However, the statement was from the truth.

Capt. Smith thought that their helicopter was15 to 20 feet above the deck. However, as the helicopter crossed the deck, Johns realized that the aircraft was “losing altitude” and made a call for “power,” the first such call that Capt. Smith recalled hearing.  No one on board realized the left rear wheel of the helicopter had struck and become entangled in the safety netting at the rear of the Pecos.

The helo tilted and twisted to its port side, and plowed downward into the Pacific Ocean below, the rotors shattering as they struck the water.  From touchdown to splashdown, seven seconds had elapsed.

11 Marines rescued were listed in stable condition aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard.

At 4:45 PM, on December 11th, more than 51 hours after the crash, search and recovery operations were suspended by the Navy’s Third Fleet.

Memorial services were conducted at 1300 hours, December 20th,1999, in the Base Theater, Mainside, at Camp Pendleton, California.

Listed Date of Death is 20 Dec 1999, the day the recovered his remains.  


Posted on

December 20, 1999

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