June 20, 1997 (by Lieven Dewitte) - The Air Force released the aircraft accident reinvestigation report June 19 on the C-130E/F-16D midair collision at Pope AFB, North Carolina, March 23, 1994. Twenty-four Army personnel were killed and more than 100 Army personnel and civilians were injured in the accident.
The C-141 that was destroyed on the ground after the midair between the C-130 and the F-16.
The original investigation found that there were multiple causes for the midair collision, the majority of which occurred in air traffic control. One contributing factor was that the F-16 pilot did not "see and avoid" and stay "well clear" of the C-130 as required by regulation. This was mitigated, however, by the pilot's statement that he could not see the C-130. The DoD Inspector General's review of the original report confirmed that air traffic control was a major factor in the accident. However, it also concluded that the report failed to adequately inquire into the action of the F-16 pilot. The Secretary of the Air Force directed a further investigation into this issue.
The new investigation team looked at all the issues that had been considered mitigating factors for the F-16 pilot. They confirmed that the flight paths of his aircraft and the C-130 made it impossible for him to see the C-130 for all but 12 seconds after he started a simulated flame out maneuver and that during that 12 seconds, the camouflage-painted C-130 was nearly impossible to see against the forested terrain.
The investigation team found that the F-16 pilot received confusing tower transmissions. In addition, after he heard the call, "C-130 traffic short final on the go," he had 17-20 seconds (excluding reaction time) during which he could have made adjustments to his flight path; however, immediately following this transmission, he was cleared to land by the air traffic controllers. The new investigation team found that after the confusing tower communications, the pilot did not ask the tower about the position of the other aircraft and did not stop flying the SFO maneuver in order to look for the traffic.
The commander of the 9th Air Force at Shaw AFB, South Carolina will review the accident investigation report to determine whether any disciplinary, administrative or other actions are appropriate.