Cause of deadly F-16 crash at Shaw AFB revealed in report

Some may find details of this report disturbing.

Cause of deadly F-16 crash at Shaw AFB revealed in report
The crash happened June 30, 2020, killing the pilot, 1st Lt. David Schmitz. (Source: Laughlin Air Force Base)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - An investigation into a deadly F-16 crash during training at Shaw Air Force Base has been completed by the Air Combat Command (ACC).

The crash happened June 30, 2020, killing the pilot, 1st Lt. David Schmitz.

Lt. Schmitz was 32 years old and assigned to the 77th Fighter Squadron.

Officials say the nighttime training flight had to end early when an attempt at air-to-air refueling failed.

On the pilot’s final approach to landing back at Shaw, the aircraft hit an antenna, severely damaging its left main landing gear, the report found.

After a brief touchdown, Lt. Schmitz executed a go-around and it was decided to attempt an “approach-end cable arrestment.” But the F-16′s tail hook did not catch the cable, and its left wing hit the runway because of the damage to the landing gear, officials said.

Lt. Schmitz ejected from the aircraft, but a malfunction kept his parachute from opening. His fall to the ground killed him instantly, the report found.

“This accident is a tragic reminder of the inherent risks of fighter aviation and our critical oversight responsibilities required for successful execution,” said Gen. Mark Kelly, commander of Air Combat Command. “The AIB report identified a sequence of key execution anomalies and material failures that resulted in this mishap. For example, in order to account for the increased demands and pilot workload involved with night flying, Air Force Instructions mandate pilots demonstrate proficiency in events like aerial refueling in the daytime before attempting them at night. That didn’t occur for this officer, and when we have oversight breakdowns or failures of critical egress systems, it is imperative that we fully understand what transpired, meticulously evaluate risk, and ensure timely and effective mitigations are in place to reduce or eliminate future mishaps.”

The ACC’s Accident Investigation Board (AIB) report says the cause of the crash was the mistake during the first landing attempt that damaged the landing gear.

But the AIB president says two factors “substantially contributed to the mishap”:

  • (a) the Supervisor of Flying chose not to consult the aircraft manufacturer, which resulted in the decision to attempt a cable arrestment in lieu of a controlled ejection, and
  • (b) a series of ejection seat malfunctions occurred, which resulted in the pilot impacting the ground while still in the ejection seat.

Read the full report below (readers may find some details disturbing):

The report also lists the cost of damages to government property at more than $25 million.

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