U-2 Flights Resume after Pilot Killed in Crash

A mobile chase car driver follows a U-2 Dragon Lady reconnaissance aircraft while it lands at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia on Dec. 7, 2015. (US Air Force/Kentavist Brackin)
A mobile chase car driver follows a U-2 Dragon Lady reconnaissance aircraft while it lands at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia on Dec. 7, 2015. (US Air Force/Kentavist Brackin)

A U-2 Dragon Lady roared to life on the runway at Beale Air Force Base at 9:01 a.m. Friday and took flight into the skies above Yuba-Sutter for the first time since a pilot was killed and another injured in a crash in the Sutter Buttes on Tuesday.

The time -- 9:01 -- was chosen to honor Lt. Col. Ira Stephen "Shooter" Eadie, the pilot who died, and was representative of the 9th Reconnaissance Wing and the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron, the unit Eadie was assigned to, according to a press release from Beale.

Eadie and a co-pilot ejected from the TU-2S two-seat training version of the U-2 before the plane hit the ground. Both pilots' parachutes deployed.

The other pilot has not been identified, and Beale officials have not released an update on his condition since Wednesday when they said the pilot was in good condition at a local medical facility after suffering non-life-threatening injuries.

As operations return to some semblance of normalcy, an investigation is underway at the crash site next to Pass Road in the Sutter Buttes.

The Dragon Lady first flew more than 61 years ago, but the actual U-2S model used today was built in the 1980s and has gone through several service life extension programs. All airframes in the Air Force must meet stringent air worthiness standards in order to remain in service, Air Force Deputy Chief of Aviation Safety Randy Rushworth said.

"The U-2 has a comparatively good safety record," Rushworth said. "It has only one Class A mishap in the last 10 years. We don't have many opportunities to investigate this aircraft because it has a good safety record."

Whenever the Air Force is involved in an aviation mishap, a coordinated response through the National Incident Management System goes into effect, Rushworth said.

The initial response is a collaborative effort between Air Force personnel and local authorities. In this case, local fire departments and the Sutter County Sheriff's Department helped secure the scene and extinguish a 250-acre grass fire that started where the U-2 went down.

Once the initial response is complete and the scene is secure, an Interim Safety Board, which includes officers and personnel from the nearest Air Force installation, begins collecting and preserving evidence, Rushworth said.

"That can take from two or three days to a week," Rushworth said.

The Interim Safety Board is nearing completion of its duties and will likely hand over its findings and the scene to the Safety Investigation Board early next week, Rus worth said.

The Safety Investigation Board is the investigative body that finds the root cause of the mishap and provides recommendations to prevent it from happening again, Rushworth said.

"If at any time a critical safety issue comes up, if it's a hazard to air crew or the operation of the aircraft, those issues are addressed immediately," he said.

Pass Road will remain closed to the public until the Safety Investigation Board determines it has what it needs from the scene, at which point it will direct the incident commander at Beale to move the wreckage back onto government property or to a specific location if further analysis is needed, Rushworth said.

The Safety Investigation Board process is designed to last about 30 days and it will produce a report with the result of its investigation and recommendations. The contents of the report are not released publicly.

A separate Accident Investigation Board, which is under the purview of the Air Force Judge Advocate General, will review the evidence and issue a public report. The Accident Investigation Board also considers possible legal action that could take place as a result of the incident, Rushworth said.

When the scene is cleared, the Air Force and local authorities will assess the damage to public or private property affected by the incident and determine if any mitigation must take place.

Beale will work with local authorities to return the area back to an acceptable original state and address any damage claims or litigation, Rushworth said.

"We're going to get to the bottom of it and find out why it happened and work to prevent it in the future," Rushworth said.

(c)2016 the Appeal-Democrat (Marysville, Calif.)

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