NORFOLK, Va. - An overconfident pilot who got less than half the sleep he needed before a night training mission was responsible for causing a midair F-16 collision over the summer that forced the other pilot to eject over the Atlantic Ocean, according to a U.S. Air Force report released Wednesday.
The accident investigation report by Air Combat Command says the pilot had trouble balancing his Air National Guard and civilian careers and only had about four hours of sleep each night in the 48 hours prior to the August collision. The pilot needed about 10 more hours of rest to be considered fully rested, and his lack of sleep was a direct result of working at his civilian job during the day and flying training missions at night, according to the report.
That lack of sleep resulted in the pilot having the same level of impairment as someone with a blood alcohol level of .05, the report says. The effects of that level of fatigue include impaired judgment, lowered alertness, difficulty steering, reduced coordination and reduced response to emergency driving situations.
"At the time that day, I believed that I was fit to fly. I was obviously wrong in the self-assessment as evidence by my monumental mistake the night of the mishap sortie," the unidentified pilot told Air Force investigators, according to the report.
The Air National Guard has not released the names of the pilots involved, but it has said both were experienced pilots. One is a captain, and the other is a lieutenant colonel.
According to the report, the pilot who caused the collision said he believed he could handle his civilian and Air National Guard duties the week of the collision by cutting back on his social commitments.
"I admit that I was grossly mistaken in this assessment and did not demonstrate sound judgment," he said, according to the report.
Investigators wrote that the pilot overestimated his personal capabilities and underestimated the effects fatigue would have on him because he had become accustomed to working long and demanding days.
At the time of the collision, the Air National Guard pilots were participating in night, tactical, air-intercept training off the Eastern Shore of Maryland. The jets were from the 113th Wing D.C. Air National Guard, whose pilots are frequently called upon to intercept aircraft that enter restricted airspace or lose communications in the Washington area. Those intercepts typically require aircraft to fly in close proximity.
During the training, the pilot who lacked sleep was serving as an instructor pilot and showing a third plane how to intercept an aircraft. The report says that as he was approaching the other aircraft involved in the collision that he failed to notice a warning from a display telling him that he needed to maneuver away. Three seconds later, his right wing hit the back part of the other jet, according to the report.
The jet that was hit then went into a slow barrel roll and it stopped responding to the pilot's controls. Waiting for the jet to be upright, that pilot ejected and was `thrown around like a rag doll' for five to seven seconds and injured both of his legs, according to the report. A third jet that had been part of the training helped track the pilot's location. About two hours later, the ejected pilot was safely plucked out of the water about 35 miles southeast of Chincoteague by a Coast Guard helicopter crew from Elizabeth City, N.C. The other jet safely returned to Joint Base Andrews, Md.
Navy divers retrieved the downed jet from the ocean floor several weeks after it crashed, although it was a total loss and no information could be retrieved from its flight data recorder. The value of the jet was about $21.9 million.
The other jet experienced about $1.1 million worth of damage.