Throt­tle caused crash

Pi­lot in June ac­ci­dent forced to eject af­ter mal­func­tion

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Jesse Paul

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

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