Throttle caused crash
Pilot in June accident forced to eject after malfunction
The June crash of a Thunderbirds fighter jet near Colorado Springs was caused by a throttle malfunction that cut off fuel to the engine and subsequently shut it off, the Air Force said in a report released Wednesday, leaving the plane’s pilot with no choice but to eject and ditch the aircraft.
Specifically, the Air Force says pilot Maj. Alex Turner inadvertently placed the jet’s throttle into an engine cut-off position and then a malfunction — or jamming — of that mechanism led the F-16 to lose power and go down just south of the Colorado Springs Airport.
The $29 million plane was destroyed.
The crash happened just minutes after Turner and his team streaked over President Barack Obama and Air Force Academy cadets at a graduation ceremony on June 2. The highly experienced pilot was able to maneuver his jet away from homes as it crashed into a field, leading him to be lauded for his efforts to protect the public.
Turner was able to walk away from the crash. No one on the ground was injured.
The report says trouble began after Turner began landing procedures when he accidentally rotated the throttle, placing it into an engine cut-off position which restricts fuel flow to the engine.
“Normally, this full rotation cannot occur unless a throttle trigger is affirmatively actuated or pressed,” the Air Force said in a news release about its report on the crash. “However, the throttle trigger was ‘stuck’ in the ‘pressed’ position. The accident investigation board observed debris accumulation in the throttle trigger, combined with wear on the trigger assembly. “
Maj. Andrew J. Schrag said the report found the malfunction happened because the trigger had metallic wear and was hindered by debris that gathered because of a lubricant.
Turner radioed to air traffic controllers that he was going down moments before the plane skidded to a halt in an open field about five miles from the runway.
“I’m putting it away from somebody’s house here!” Turner, the pilot, called out. “I’m getting out!”
Turner tried to initiate engine restart procedures, the Air Force says, but restart was impossible at the aircraft’s low altitude. Fuel levels were not identified as a cause or contributing factor to the crash, according to the Air Force’s Air Combat Command, saying the jet had 900 pounds of fuel when it went down.
Turner told investigators he hoped to “get just enough thrust to make it to the runway.”
In a 34-page report, Air Force crash investigators did not find any wrongdoing on Turner’s part. They identified maintenance technical orders that lacked sufficient detail to identify problems with a throttle trigger as a substantially contributing factor.
“Historic throttle trigger sticking in F-16s was identified,” the report said. “Hardware changes have reduced but not eliminated the number of occurrences.”
“We’re constantly evaluating our procedures when it comes to flight safety,” Schrag said on Wednesday. “We want to make sure these things never happen, if possible.”
Turner, who flies aircraft No. 6 in the Thunderbirds fleet, resumed demonstrations with the team after the crash. He earned his commission in 2005 and at the time of crash had logged more than 1,200 flight hours as an Air Force pilot, with more than 270 combat hours over Libya and Iraq.
The last time a Thunderbirds jet crashed before the Colorado Springs mishap was September 2003 during an air show in Idaho.
Obama briefly met with Turner after his F-16 crashed, shaking hands with him before departing on Air Force One.
The crash was one of two involving the military’s best-known precision flying demonstration teams on June 2. Blue Angels pilot Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss of Colorado died in a fiery wreck the same day while taking off from an airport near Nashville, Tenn.
A military helicopter surveys the crash site near Colorado Springs in June. Michael Reaves, Denver Post file