NORFOLK, Va. - A fighter plane crashed during a training mission in Utah this May because of an engine failure that possibly could have been avoided if inspectors had noticed an anomaly in a fan blade when it was installed in 2004, according to an Air Force report released Thursday.
The F-16C Falcon crashed about an hour after takeoff after losing thrust in the northern part of the Utah Test and Training Range about 70 miles west of Salt Lake City. The pilot safely ejected after steering the plane away from nearby mountains and the Great Salt Lake. The jet was destroyed on impact and the Air Force values the loss at nearly $24 million.
The Air Force says the engine failed because one of its 32 fan blades broke free, causing catastrophic damage to the rest of the fan, compressor and turbines. The blade was eight years old and normal engine use caused cracking to form on the edge of the blade, eventually resulting in its separation.
The accident investigation report by Air Combat Command at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia says the anomaly on the blade's base fell within the parameters of mandatory replacement.
"The inspector could have noticed the anomaly based on its size and location, as it was significantly larger than a nick or dent," the report says.
The inspection occurred at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma during fan assembly buildup. The report says that after the initial blade installation, there was no scheduled inspection or maintenance that could have resulted in the anomaly being discovered. The blade was never removed after 2004.
The pilot and the jet were assigned to the 421st Fighter Squadron at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. Nobody was injured in the accident and no other damage was reported.