The US Air Force says that the crash of Thunderbird #6 into a Colorado field earlier this year was caused by a throttle malfunction. The finding was part of the Accident Investigation Board report on the incident, announced today by Air Combat Command. The crash occurred shortly after a flyby of the United States Air Force Academy graduation ceremony in Colorado Springs, CO on June 2nd.
Although speculation has been rampant that the F-16 Fighting Falcon ran out of fuel, ACC has stated that hundreds of pounds of fuel were removed from the wreckage. Instead, the investigation found that an issue with the throttle incorrectly caused the pilot, Major Alex Turner, to shut the engine off rather than setting it to idle power as intended. He was unable to restart the engine due to his low altitude and ejected safely after steering toward an empty field.
According to ACC, “after beginning landing procedures, the pilot inadvertently rotated the throttle, placing it into an engine cut-off position. Normally, this full rotation cannot occur unless a throttle trigger is affirmatively actuated or pressed. However, the throttle trigger was “stuck” in the “pressed” position. The accident investigation board observed debris accumulation in the throttle trigger, combined with wear on the trigger assembly.
Once the engine cut-off occurred, the aircraft immediately lost thrust. The pilot attempted engine restart procedures, but restart was impossible at the low altitude of the aircraft. The pilot safely delayed his ejection until he navigated the aircraft to a grass field.
The aircraft, valued at approximately $29 million, was destroyed. There was no known damage to civilian property. At the time of the accident, the pilot was a current and qualified air demonstration pilot, with more than 1,200 hours flying the F-16 and a total flight time of 1,447 hours. He resumed demonstrations with the team.”
The Thunderbirds were grounded for a little over two weeks following the crash. They returned to aerial demonstrations at the airshow in Ocean City, MD and successfully completed the remainder of their 2016 show season.
This crash was somewhat overshadowed by the fact that Blue Angel #6, Marine Captain Jeff Kuss, was killed when his aircraft crashed the same afternoon in Smyrna, TN. That crash was a separate and unrelated accident, and a report on it was released in September.