May 27, 2024

Naval Air squadron commander reassigned during crash inquiry

BRUNSWICK – The leader of a P-3 Orion squadron at Maine’s Brunswick Naval Air Station is being relieved of his command.

A statement says the Navy has lost confidence in Cmdr. Llewellyn Lewis, the commanding officer of Special Projects Squadron 1 in Brunswick.

Lewis was at the controls of the P-3 Orion that overshot the runway, crash-landed and caught fire in October at Bagram Airfield, north of Kabul, Afghanistan. All crew members survived the crash, but one of them suffered a broken ankle.

The accident remains under investigation and “additional appropriate corrective action” is expected, the Navy statement said.

After the crash, Lewis was temporarily reassigned, which is standard procedure. Cmdr. Craig Lee has assumed command of the squadron, according to Capt. James Hoke, commander of Patrol and Reconnaissance Wing 5 in Norfolk, Va.

P-3 Orions were built to hunt submarines but they’ve been used for reconnaissance in Iraq and Afghanistan. Special Projects Squadron 1 tests and evaluates equipment and tactics, said John James, spokesman for Brunswick Naval Air Station

Crashes like the one in Afghanistan are rare.

The last serious incident involving a Brunswick-based P-3 Orion was in 1978, when one of the planes caught fire and crashed in Poland, Maine, James said. A structural failure was blamed for that crash, which claimed the lives of eight crew members.

The Navy is in the process of preparing for a new generation of patrol aircraft to replace the aging P-3 Orions, but Brunswick Naval Air Station will be closed by the time the first Boeing P-8A Poseidons are deployed.

The first squadron already has departed from Brunswick. Patrol Squadron 8 is supporting operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Once the seven-month deployment is completed, the squadron will move on to the Jacksonville Naval Air Station in Florida.

Brunswick’s four remaining squadrons will leave by next December, with the 3,000-acre base due to be completely closed in 2011.

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