Pentagon: AF Wrongly Blamed Pilot for F-22 Crash


An Air Force report that cites pilot error in a fatal F-22 crash "was not supported by the facts," the Pentagon Inspector General's Office announced Monday.

The crash in Alaska claimed the life of pilot Jeff Haney. It also sparked a lawsuit against the aircraft's manufacturer and reverberated throughout the tightly knit F-22 community, which includes pilots at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton.

Haney crashed in the Alaskan wilderness toward the end of a routine training mission on Nov. 16, 2010 after something cut off his oxygen supply. An Air Force investigation later blamed the crash on Haney's "failure to recognize and initiate a timely dive recovery due to channelized attention, breakdown of visual scan and unrecognized spatial distortion."

The Inspector General had this to say about that conclusion:

"The AIB (Aircraft Accident Investigation Board) does not clearly explain the interrelationship and how it is possible that all three factors concurrently caused the mishap. Failure to adequately explain this relationship calls into question the AIB Statement of Opinion regarding the cause of the mishap."

The IG's report was posted on its website Monday.

About six months after Haney's crash, the Air Force grounded its entire fleet of F-22 Raptors, the most advanced U.S. fighter, when concerns about the oxygen supply system led to a broader examination of the aircraft. A small number of F-22 pilots reported symptoms of oxygen deprivation, or hypoxia, for which the Air Force could not find the cause.

The issue reached a public crescendo last year when two Virginia Air National Guard pilots from Langley told "60 Minutes" they were not comfortable flying the aircraft, even though they believed in it.

Investigators now believe they have solved the problem, and the Air Force has not logged a case of unexplained hypoxia since last March.

The IG report faulted the Air Force's accident probe in other ways as well. Specifically:

The Air Force said Haney's mask "was in the full up position" throughout the accident sequence, but that finding was not adequately supported. This "precluded the analysis of other potential causes of the mishap." This calls into question the report's findings.

The report does not fully analyze various human factors "such as hypoxia, gravity-induced loss of consciousness and sudden incapacitation."

The report lists 109 references in its summary of facts, and 60 were either incorrect or did not direct the reader to the right information.

In its response, the Air Force agreed that the report could have been written more clearly. But the service stuck by its conclusions.

It said the Statement of Opinion "regarding the cause of the mishap was supported by clear and convincing evidence and (the investigative board president) exhausted all available leads."

The crash prompted a lawsuit by the pilot's widow, who claimed that the aircraft was defective. Anna Haney sued Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Honeywell International and Pratt and Whitney.

Defense contractors settled the suit in August 2012. Terms were not disclosed.

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