June 18, 2002 (by Lieven Dewitte) - Pilot error caused the Jan. 10 crash of an Air National Guard F-16 near the Garden State Parkway, officials said yesterday.
The fighter jet, assigned to the 177th Fighter Wing at Atlantic City International Airport in Egg Harbor Township, crashed in woods while on a training mission after the pilot, Maj. Robert G. McNally, ejected safely. No one on the ground was injured.
A probe found that McNally had failed to secure his lap belt adequately before takeoff, overcompensated after falling too far behind the lead aircraft in a three-jet formation, and then experienced "spatial disorientation" when antigravity forces lifted him out of his seat and pinned him against the cockpit canopy as he tried to regain control of the jet.
"He made a mistake. There's no doubt about that," said Col. Michael Cosby, commander of the 177th Fighter Wing.
An Air Force accident review board also cited McNally's relative inexperience flying F-16s and his inactivity due to increased supervisory responsibility over combat air patrols flown over New York and Washington after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The $19 million jet was destroyed in the crash. Debris was scattered over the southbound lanes of the Garden State Parkway about 20 miles north of Atlantic City. No vehicles were damaged.