October 31, 2013 (by Asif Shamim) - U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa officials released the results of their investigation into the January 28 crash of F-16C block 40 #88-0510 over the Adriatic Sea, resulting in the death of the pilot Capt. Lucas Gruenther.
USAF F-16C block 40 #88-0510 from the 510th FS is coming in for landing at Aviano AB on June 10th, 2009 sprting the unit's markings on the tail. [Photo by Pascal]
On 28 January 2013, at approximately 19.03hrs local time, F-16C block 40
tail number #88-0510
, assigned to the 510th Fighter Squadron, 31st Fighter Wing,Aviano Air Base, Italy
, departed as part of a formation of three F-16C and one F-16D aircraft engaged in a night training mission. The pilots were using night vision goggles (NVGs). Prior to the mishap,after airspace weather precluded them from achieving their primary mission, the pilot and mishap wingman coordinated two simulated bomb attacks as a backup mission.
The first attack was executed without event. At 19.48hrs, approximately 45 minutes after takeoff, Gruenther executed a threat reaction which culminated in a “last ditch” defensive maneuver. This occurred during the post-attack egress on the second attack and initially resulted in the mishap aircraft entering a 45 degree nose low, 90 degree left wing down, attitude. Approximately 12 seconds later, the pilot transmitted he was spatially disoriented.
Taking prompts from his wingman, Gruenther transitioned to internal aircraft instruments and then attempted a recovery maneuver. The execution of the “last ditch” maneuver and follow on recovery maneuvers resulted in aural warnings and caution lights illuminating inside the aircraft, loss of all cultural lighting cues and discernible horizon outside the aircraft, and unusual aircraft attitudes, which together led to a high rate of descent and airspeed. The pilot was spatially disoriented to the point where he believed that he could not recover the aircraft.
At approximately 19.49hrs, Gruenther initiated ejection. During ejection he suffered fatal head and neck trauma during ejection. The F-16 was destroyed upon impact in the Adriatic Sea, approximately four miles from the ejection site.
At the conclusion of the investigation, the board president, Brig. Gen. Derek P. Rydholm, found clear and convincing evidence that the pilot suffered symptoms of spatial disorientation, due to a combination of weather conditions, use of night vision goggles, the aircraft's attitude and high rate of speed, and the pilot's breakdown in visual scan.
Capt. Lucas Gruenther, was a member of the 555th Fighter Squadron, 31st Fighter Wing, Aviano Air Base, Italy. He was promoted to the grade of major posthumously.