December 26, 2000 (by Lieven Dewitte) - Investigators have determined the midair collision of two F-16 jet fighters near Moapa, Nev., on Aug. 8 was due to pilot error.
One jet (Viper 4) was destroyed when it hit the ground on the slopes of the Mormon Mountains. The pilot ejected safely and was picked up by search and rescue forces from Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. The other jet (Viper 1) landed safely despite sustaining damage from the collision.
The pilots were taking part in a tactical-intercept training mission involving a total of four aircraft, with the two mishap aircraft in opposing two-ship elements. All aircraft were assigned to the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron, based at Nellis.
According to the investigation report released Dec. 22 by Air Combat Command, there were two main causes that led to the accident.
First, the two mishap pilots failed to clear their flight paths prior to the collision. Viper 1 had the principal responsibility for ensuring a clear flight path, but Viper 4 also shared this duty, investigators said. Second, investigators determined that Viper 1 violated flight rules by entering his opponent's pre-planned altitude block and then failing to stop the engagement.
Investigators also pointed out three factors that substantially contributed to the mishap. First, Viper 1 experienced channelized attention while trying to visually identify his opponent. This channelized attention led to decreased situational awareness. Second, Viper 1 made incorrect assumptions about his wingman's and his opponent's positions, leading him to misinterpret the situation. Finally, investigators cited inadequate situational awareness on the part of Viper 4 and his wingman due to poor communication between the two.