2023 Paul A. Volcker Career Achievement

Dave Clark

Managed 94 Navy aviation crash investigations worldwide over two decades that uncovered safety problems and led to important aircraft modifications that have saved countless lives.

Dave Clark has been a leading Navy aircraft accident investigator for two decades, finding himself at crash sites throughout the United States and in far flung corners of the world, including a 10,000-foot mountaintop in Nepal, where he spent seven days. 

“Dave has been the cornerstone of U.S. Navy and Marine aviation mishap investigations for the last 20 years,” said Mark Bovee, Scramjet facility safety head at NASA’s Langley Research Center. “His recommendations have directly led to saving lives of service members who are operating aircraft around the world.” 

Cmdr. Roger Leech, the deputy director of mishap investigations at the Naval Safety Command, said Clark has led and selected teams for 94 aircraft investigations, “pioneered and developed new investigative techniques, and uncovered problems that directly contributed to aircraft equipment modifications and procedural changes to improve aviation safety.” 

He added, “Dave Clark has put himself in situations that most Americans will never see or understand, to help preserve life and military capabilities.”  

Investigating a deadly helicopter crash in Nepal 

In 2015, Clark and his team scaled a 10,000-foot mountain in Nepal and camped out in tents for seven days to investigate the crash of a Marine helicopter that was on a humanitarian mission following an earthquake, killing 13 people, including six Marines. The team’s investigation revealed that the accident occurred due to unstable weather conditions as opposed to a mechanical failure and helped inform future decisions on what routes aircrafts should take in the area. 

Three years later, Clark’s efforts led to the recovery of a transport plane that crashed in 2017 as it attempted to fly to the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan in the Philippine Sea. Eight people were rescued, but three others were lost along with the aircraft.  

Clark and his team successfully found the plane in 18,500 feet of water and recovered the remains of the personnel who died. That mishap investigation’s findings led to aircraft modifications to prevent future loss of life.  

In 2018, Clark responded to the crash of an F-35B jet in South Carolina and, in this instance, pioneered the way that all Navy and Marine Corps crash scenes must be handled to protect national security interests. 

“Dave is the epitome of a true safety professional,” said Jonas Natividad, director of mishap investigations at the Naval Safety Command. “His dedication and expertise in safety investigations has undoubtedly saved lives and preserved resources.”  

Working closely with the aviation industry 

To further safety research and advances, Clark also has opened the door to industry partners to share information about aircraft safety. 

“Dave paved the way in helping the Naval Safety Command and aircraft manufacturers develop and implement first-of-its-kind agreements to share institutional knowledge to ensure that all data related to safety of naval aircraft is captured and able to be used by both enterprises to make more informed safety changes,” said Javier Cassanova, chief air safety investigator with RMS Sikorsky.  

“By implementing these agreements, Dave has cemented a legacy of enterprise-level processes that can be utilized and leveraged to continue safe operation of aircraft for generations to come,” he said. 

Cassanova said he frequently leans on Clark to provide insights on the CH-53E helicopter, a Sikorsky product, because of his extensive experience as both a former pilot of the aircraft in the Marine Corps and as an investigator. 

“Dave has a historical depth of knowledge that is difficult to portray in a computer database,” Cassanova said. “He has been critical in identifying emerging trends that may have otherwise been missed.” 

Although his investigations often involve the loss of life, Clark is proud that his work can help prevent future tragedies.  

“I have a great job that allows me to work with others in the face of adversity to figure what happened and prevent it from happening again,” he said.