Both crew members of a U.S. F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jet were rescued after the plane crashed in eastern Libya, the operational commander of the allied attack on Libya said today.
The crew ejected safely after the plane suffered “an equipment malfunction” at about 10:30 p.m. Central European Time yesterday, said U.S. Admiral Samuel Locklear, who spoke to reporters at the Pentagon by telephone from his command ship in the Mediterranean Sea.
The aircraft had been on a mission to attack Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s “missile capabilities,” Locklear said.
One crew member was rescued by coalition forces, while the other “was recovered by the people of Libya” and turned over to the United States, Locklear said.
V-22 Ospreys made by Bell Helicopter Textron and Boeing Co., flown off the USS Kearsarge by pilots of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, participated in the pilot recovery, marine Corps spokesman Captain Richard Ulsh said in an e-mail. CH-53E Super Sea Stallion helicopters made by United Technologies Corp.’s Sikorsky unit also took part, he said.
The accident marked the first crash of an F-15E aircraft since July 18, 2009, when one of the Boeing Co.-made planes crashed in Afghanistan. Both the pilot and navigator died.
All F-15A through F-15D variants were grounded for several months after a Missouri Air National Guard F-15C fighter disintegrated in the air in November 2007. That accident was caused by a cracked longeron, a structure that helps hold the fuselage together.
The U.S. Air Force has more than 220 F-15E Strike Eagles, a version designed for both air-to-air and air-to-ground attacks. The plane’s avionics and electronics systems allow it to fly at low altitude in all types of weather, according to an Air Force fact sheet.
The Air Force bought its last five F-15E jets in 2001 for an average price of $79.24 million each.
Boeing still produces the F-15E for export and jointly produces the F-15K Slam Eagle variant with South Korea.
The crew safely ejected from the F-15E over Libya using the Advanced Concept Ejection Seat II made by Goodrich Corp., based in Charlotte, North Carolina. The seats cost more than $1 million each.
The Air Force plans on spending $1.6 billion over the next five years to buy new radars for its fleet of F-15 jets, including $816 million for radar upgrades on 86 F-15E variants. The radars are made by Raytheon Co. of Waltham, Massachusetts.
While Boeing was the prime contractor on the F-15E, Pratt & Whitney made the engines and Northrop Grumman Corp. provided the plane’s electronic countermeasure sets.
The Air Force has spent about $27 billion to buy more than 1,100 F-15 aircraft of all variants since the early 1970s. Some of the older planes are being replaced by Lockheed Martin Corp. F-22 Raptors and F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.
President Barack Obama was told last night in Chile “that a U.S. plane was down,” Ben Rhodes, the White House deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, told reporters traveling with Obama on Air Force One.
White House Chief of Staff William Daley, accompanying Obama at a state dinner, remained in contact with national security adviser Tom Donilon and informed Obama about developments, Rhodes said.
After Obama returned to his hotel, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke with Obama and told him of the Pentagon’s assessment that both pilots were safe, Rhodes said.
The plane crashed in a field near Benghazi, Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper reported on its website, without saying where it got the information.