August 31, 2004 (by Lieven Dewitte) - A pilot's momentary loss of situational awareness caused two F-16 Fighting Falcons to collide May 17 over southwestern Indiana, according to a U.S. Air Force report released on Monday.
USAF F-16C block 30 #86-0260 of the 113th FS taxiing by with only a pair of Sidewinders. [Photo by Scott Van Aken
The deadly collision of the two F-16s occurred when the lead pilot of a fourship lost track of his location in the grouping during a tactical 180-degree left turn, according to military investigators.
The lead pilot, Maj. William E. Burchett, member of the Indiana Air National Guard's 113th Fighter Squadron in Terre Haute, was killed in the crash. The pilot of the second aircraft, Maj. Thomas R. Sims, also assigned to the 113th FS
, safely ejected and suffered minor injuries.
Maj. Burchett was killed when the right external fuel tank and another part of Sims' aircraft struck the canopy of his jet
The incident happened during a training mission about 40 miles southwest of Terre Haute. The pilot of the second aircraft lost situational awareness during a turn after performing a weapons check. During the weapons check, he did not notice the lead aircraft changing airspeed and altitude and mistook the third aircraft as the lead aircraft. That loss of situational awareness caused the colliddion with Burchett's jet in what he thought was empty airspace.
The fact that the the lead pilot was changing his airspeed and altitude during the turn also substantially contributed to the accident.
Bernadette Dozier, a spokeswoman for Air Combat Command at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia said the report has been forwarded to the commander of the Terre Haute-based 181st Fighter Wing to determine whether Sims will face any disciplinary action, retraining or other action in the case.
Dozier said the report did not specifically state that "pilot error" caused the crash.
The accident report: