- CBP ran an ‘under wraps’ flight school allowing underqualified trainees to ‘pad their logbooks’
- Agency threatened to fire whistleblower when he raised concerns about near-fatal 2021 helicopter crash
- CBP has now reversed its decision to retrofit crash-proof fuel tanks on its 97-strong fleet of light helicopters
Senior Border Patrol officials covered up a near-fatal helicopter crash and were allowed to retire early rather than face the rap for repeatedly placing the public at serious risk, a whistleblower has claimed.
Two CBP agents had a miraculous escape in 2021 when a helicopter crashed and burst into flames during a training exercise outside Oklahoma City.
An internal investigation found that the trainee was just the first of many routinely allowed to fly without enough cock-pit experience, and that most of the fleet does not have crash-proof fuel tanks.
But whistleblower Joseph Adams claims that CBP boss Robert Blanchard ordered him to cut the findings from the official report because they were a ‘legal liability’.
Adams said the agency runs an ‘under wraps’ flight school allowing trainees to ‘pad their logbooks’, and that his job was threatened for warning about the ‘substantial and specific danger to public safety’.
An internal CBP report into the 2021 Oklahoma helicopter crash found that the trainee pilot was just the first of many routinely allowed to fly without enough cock-pit experience, and that most of its fleet did not have crash-proof fuel tanks
Whistleblower Joseph Adams accused Robert Blanchard (left) of ordering him to cover up the report. Current agency boss Troy Miller (right) allowed Blanchard to retire early
Investigators found little but ashes and two dazed airmen when they arrived at the scene
‘This leads to minimally skilled aviators being selected for very difficult pilot assignments,’ he said.
First responders found little but ashes and the two shocked airmen by the time they arrived at the scene of the Oklahoma helicopter crash on May 12, 2021.
‘It’s not something we see every day and we’re just thankful that they’re ok,’ said Benny Fulkerson of the Yukon Fire Department.
An internal aircraft mishap report found that the pilot in training was the ‘primary causal factor’ and had not accumulated enough flight hours before being allowed to operate the helicopter.
Adams said the crash was just the first of half a dozen mishaps caused by poor safety standards.
He alerted the Office of Special Counsel about his concerns and it ordered the CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility to investigate.
That office confirmed that Blanchard had ‘improperly attempted to remove critical information’ from the official report ‘because of the potential for a negative public response and increased legal liability’.
It also found he tried to hide the fact that 81 of the agency’s 97 light helicopters operate without crash-resistant fuel tanks.
The Office of Professional Responsibility found the CBP was allowed to have the more dangerous tanks because the law does not require crash resistance on aircraft designed before 1994.
The CPB originally said that it planned to retrofit new fuel tanks, but in September Acting Commissioner Troy Miller confirmed that: ‘CBP has determined not to retrofit the current fleet.’
He said the agency planned to ‘retire and replace the fleet lacking crash worthy fuel tanks’, and also said that Blanchard was due to retire by the end of that month.
Adams, who retired himself last month, warned the White House in July that other CBP officials aware of the reasons for the crash had been allowed to quietly retire before any disciplinary action was taken, according to a letter seen by the NY Post.
The Office of Special Counsel is separately investigating the allegations Blanchard threatened to fire Adams, a 15-year veteran of the agency, over his concerns.
Henry Kerner from the Office of the Special Counsel (right) was tasked with dealing with the whistleblower’s allegations against Blanchard (left)
And it has given the CPB until tomorrow to respond to give a full account of the affair.
‘We takes our obligations to investigate all allegations seriously and have an established process to investigate whistleblower matters,’ a CPB spokesman said .
‘CBP’s Air and Marine Operations remains committed to maintaining the highest standards of training and proficiency for our pilots.
‘AMO operates and maintains all of their light enforcement helicopters in accordance with manufacturers’ standards and Federal Aviation Regulations.’