#NBFF20: ‘Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn?’
Celebrating its 20th year, the Newport Beach Film Festival highlights films from every corner of the world in a week-long showcase. We’re highlighting some of the festival’s most noteworthy features, documentaries, and more.
“I am a United States Naval Aircrewman. My country has built me the finest aircraft known to man. They have entrusted me to use it to keep our country free.” So goes the Aircrewman’s Creed, and so begins Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn?, a hard-hitting exposé of the military-industrial complex.
During a routine training mission in January 2014, US Navy pilot Lieutenant Wes Van Dorn—a devoted husband and father of two—died in a helicopter crash. The accident left his wife, Nicole, searching for answers. Nicole’s questions led to a deep investigation, one that revealed a tangled web of oversight, suppression, and blatant disregard for the men and women of the United States military.
The 53E helicopter (known as the Seadragon to the Navy and the Super Stallion to the Marines) has proved to be the deadliest aircraft in the United States’ arsenal—not to the enemy, but to those inside it. To date, accidents involving the 53E have killed over 130 soldiers and sailors. Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn? investigates not just what went wrong on one flight, but what’s led to the 53E’s horrifying history. This is far from one family’s tragedy. This is a problem deeply rooted in the military machine.
Through interviews with Van Dorn’s family and crew—including a lead mechanic and a survivor of the crash—Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn? digs deep into the causes of the accidents, ranging from a “get ‘er done” culture that neglects proper procedure to the troubling relationship between Congress, the military, and the weapons industry. Concerns in the military are routinely suppressed and even punished. Flight hours are considered more important than safety. As long as the money flows, the 53E flies.
Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn? will—and very much should—shock and outrage anyone who watches. Sharp and incisive, it’s a heartbreaking story of loss, and a damning picture of how much the military-industrial complex actually values the men and women who serve.