KODIAK — Members of Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak are flying south to Sitka today as part of the Coast Guard’s response to a fatal July 2010 helicopter crash.

Members of Air Station Sitka will host Kodiak air crews for a joint meeting with Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo, commander of the 17th Coast Guard District. The meeting comes at the direction of Vice Adm. Sally Brice-O’Hara, vice commandant of the Coast Guard. In the final action report on the crash released earlier this month, Brice-O’Hara directed a review of safety procedures and training requirements and said Coast Guard policy should be amended to make safety the responsibility of all aircrew members.

Ostebo is expected to review the safety changes with Kodiak aircrew members today.

“This is a very emotional case for a lot of people, and the Coast Guard people have questions,” said Lt. Veronica Colbath, spokeswoman for the Coast Guard district. “Adm. Ostebo can help educate them about the process that was taken and to also answer questions. Their jobs are extremely dangerous, and this is just a good opportunity to talk.”

Cmdr. Mark Vislay, operations officer for Air Station Kodiak, is in charge of pilot training at the base and is among those flying to Sitka.

“It’s my job to stay in tune with those things,” he said, “and there’s some things I believe the district commander can shed lights on.”

Vislay said he has been following the case closely, and bringing Kodiak flyers to Sitka is an unusual event that shows how seriously the Coast Guard is taking the crash investigation.

“For us to get together like this, it’s rare,” he said. “The operation tempo we both have is pretty extreme. We’re always up to something.”

Not everybody thinks the safety meeting is a good idea. John M. Smith is the attorney who represented Lt. Lance Leone, the sole survivor of the 2010 crash. Leone, the co-pilot of the helicopter, was accused in court-martial hearings of negligence. While acquitted of those charges, he was administratively criticized by Ostebo for failing to challenge unsafe flying that contributed to the crash.

Smith said Leone will be in the audience for Ostebo’s remarks, and Smith continues to protest the Coast Guard’s case.

“I believe it is significantly false,” he said.

He said aircrews will receive only “the Coast Guard’s version of what happened,” and not information about the Coast Guard’s failure to mark high-tension wires that Leone’s helicopter collided with.

The safety briefing is expected to last one day, and Kodiak’s search-and-rescue operations will not be affected.

Contact Mirror editor James Brooks at editor@kodiakdailymirror.com.

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