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Air Force finds pilot, not equipment, at fault in 2010 Alaska F-22 crash

Ben Anderson
An F-22 Raptor from the 525th Fighter Squadron takes off from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson
Senior Airman Christopher Gross
Staff Sgt. Alex Raaymakers, a crew chief, performs end of runway checks prior to an F-22 Raptor take off.
Photo by Senior Airman Cynthia Spalding
Crew chiefs with the 525th Fighter Squadron prepare an F-22 Raptor for take off.
Photo by Senior Airman Cynthia Spalding
An F-22 Raptor flies over Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
Photo by Senior Airman Cynthia Spalding
A pair of F-22 Raptors fly over Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
Photo by Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson
An F-22 Raptor takes off from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, on September 21 after a four-month stand down.
Photo by Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson

More than a year after an F-22 Raptor fighter jet crashed near Cantwell in Alaska, an Air Force investigation team reports that the pilot of the jet, Capt. Jeffrey Haney, was at fault after failing to respond quickly to a malfunction with the oxygen system, the Air Force Times reports.

The Nov. 16, 2010 crash killed Capt. Haney and, combined with numerous other reports of pilot disorientation in the F-22, grounded the entire U.S. fleet of $400 million aircraft for four months while the Air Force looked for the cause of the problem. After the jets returned to service in September, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson briefly grounded its fleet again in late October over continuing concerns about pilot oxygen supplies.

Haney was on a training mission Northeast of the Interior Alaska city of Cantwell when his plane dropped below radar and sparked an overnight search for the missing aircraft

Carbon monoxide entering the cockpit was the suspected cause of Haney's crash and the other reports of pilot disorientation. It was reported that the majority of the 14 incidents of "hypoxia-like symptoms" in the F-22 pilots were in Alaska, possibly caused by carbon monoxide mixing with the jets' oxygen supply as the aircraft warmed up in the hangar during the winter months.

The new report does say there was a malfunction with the oxygen supply in the jet piloted by Capt. Haney, but also that while Haney was focusing his attention for 50 seconds on re-establishing the flow to his oxygen mask, he inadvertently moved the aircraft, resulting in "spatial disorientation" that led to an unrecoverable dive. Procedure called for the activation of the Emergency Oxygen System or for Haney to lower his mask from his face. The investigation found that he did neither.

"The MP (Mishap Pilot) was an experienced fighter pilot and was highly trained to handle complex aircraft emergencies," the report found. "However, procedure training does not simulate the physiological stressors of real-world in-flight and cockpit conditions during emergency situations -- for example, restricted breathing, gravitational forces, (and) cockpit pressurization."

The Air Force Times newspaper and website pointed out past problems with Raptors. "Pilots have said that the emergency oxygen supply is notoriously difficult to use in the Raptor," Air Force Times reported. "Ultimately, the Air Force chose to blame Haney rather than attribute the crash to a malfunctioning bleed-air system and a difficult-to-use emergency oxygen supply."

Writing the report's conclusion, Brigadier Gen. James S. Brown, who's president of the Accident Investigation Board,  said:

By clear and convincing evidence, I find the cause of the mishap was the MP's failure to recognize and initiate a timely dive recovery due to channelized attention, breakdown of visual scan, and unrecognized spatial disorientation. Further, I find by preponderance of evidence, organizational training issues, inadvertant operations, personal equipment interference, and controls/switches were factors that substantially contributed to the mishap.

Haney did manage to activate his Emergency Oxygen System before hitting the ground, and attempted a last-minute recovery from the dive, the report said. But by then it was too late.

Read more, at the Air Force Times, and read the complete report on the crash here.