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Pilot error, ejection seat malfunction implicated in June F-16 crash

Nov. 10 (UPI) — Pilot error and a series of ejection seat malfunctions led to the death of an F-16CM pilot at Shaw Air Force Base In June, according to an accident report released this week by Air Combat Command.

According to the report, 1st Lt. David Schmitz’s ejection seat malfunctioned and his parachute never deployed, causing his death after his aircraft struck a localizer antenna array while landing the plane.

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Schmitz, 32, died instantly on impacting the ground, the report said.

He was conducting a nighttime mission qualification training flight that would include his first ever attempts at air-to-air refueling — but the air-to-air refueling attempt failed, cutting the mission short.

As Schmitz returned to Shaw AFB, the collision with the antenna array damaged the left main landing gear.

An attempt at an approach-end cable arrestment failed and the aircraft impacted the ground, prompting Schmitz’s failed attempt to eject, the report said.

“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.”

According to the AIB, the collision was caused by “the pilot’s failure to correctly interpret the approach lighting system and identify the runway threshold during his first landing attempt, which resulted in a severely damaged landing gear.”

The AIB also said that in addition to a series of ejection seat malfunctions, the Supervisor of Flying didn’t consult the aircraft manufacturer before attempting a cable arrestment rather than a controlled ejection.

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