F-16 Fighting Falcon News

F-16 crash in Iraq attributed to pilot disorientation

October 7, 2007 (by Lieven Dewitte) - A pilot's disorientation during a night-time take off caused an F-16CG to crash in Iraq on June 15, killing the pilot immediately on impact, Air Force officials announced Thursday.

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Lt.Col. Kevin Sonnenberg seen after a mission in this 2005 file photo from the Ohio ANG's 112th FS.

Killed in the crash was Col. Kevin Sonnenberg, an Ohio Air National Guard pilot with the 112th Fighter Squadron. He was engaged in a night-time close air support mission when his jet crashed.

The plane came down approximately 5.5 miles north of Balad Air Base, from where it had left from just minutes before on a close-air support mission.

According to an accident investigation board report, 90 seconds after taking off in challenging night and reduced visibility conditions, the aircraft began a slow, insidious roll to the right.

Once Sonnenberg realized his mistake, he started appropriate recovery procedures, but was too low and did not have time to get back into a safe position.

The report said spatial disorientation occurs when a pilot has false perception of the aircraft's attitude and motion. All pilots are susceptible to such sensory illusions regardless of experience or proficiency, especially at night in a demanding combat environment.

The 42-year-old colonel was a pilot with Delta Airlines. He joined the Air Guard in 1990, graduating from undergraduate pilot training in 1993 and F-16 training in 1994. Colonel Sonnenberg previously served in Qatar, Kuwait, and Turkey.

A nearly $7 million complex housing the Ohio Air National Guard 180th Fighter Wing's logistics readiness squadron at Toledo Express Airport was dedicated last month in honor of Colonel Sonnenberg. He also received a Bronze Star posthumously.

The pilot deployed to the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing at Balad AB in May 2007 from the Ohio Air National Guard in Toledo, Ohio. He was assigned as the 112th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron C-Flight Commander. The aircraft was assigned to the 112th EFS and deployed from Oklahoma Air National Guard in Tulsa, Okla.

In Memoriam