Air Force Finding Pilot Erred in F-22 Crash Disputed

An Air Force finding that the fatal 2010 crash of a Lockheed Martin Corp. F-22 Raptor fighter was caused by pilot error “is not supported by the facts” in the service’s inquiry, according to the Pentagon inspector general.

The watchdog office, in a report released today, examined the Air Force’s review of the November 2010 crash in Alaska of an F-22 assigned to the 525th Fighter Squadron.

The crash that killed the F-22 pilot, Captain Jeff Haney, came before a series of incidents in which a dozen pilots flying the F-22 became dizzy and disoriented from lack of oxygen, a condition called hypoxia. The Air Force said in July of last year that it was correcting the oxygen deprivation by replacing a valve in pressure vests worn by pilots at high altitudes.

The Air Force review released in December 2011 said that “clear and convincing evidence” showed the crash that killed Haney near Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson was caused by his failure to take timely action to prevent it.

Disputing that conclusion, the inspector general said it wasn’t supported in a manner “consistent with” the service’s own “clear and convincing standard of proof.”

The Air Force investigation discounted oxygen deprivation as contributing to the crash. The inspector general criticized the service for not providing “a detailed analysis describing why hypoxia was not considered a contributory factor.”

Oxygen Review

In May 2011, the Air Combat Command announced a temporary suspension of training flights because of “recent reports of potential oxygen system malfunctions.” That led to a full review of the F-22’s oxygen system.

After studying everything from hoses and masks to the planes’ radar-absorbing stealth skin, the Air Force determined the trouble was the valve in the pressure vest.

Today’s inspector general report recommended that the Air Force judge advocate general reevaluate the accident report findings in Haney’s crash and “take appropriate action.”

The Air Force said in comments contained in the report that it stood by the 2011 conclusions while saying some aspects of the report “could have been written more clearly.”

The Air Force said it relied for its rebuttal of the inspector general’s review on the findings of a special task force it convened.

Remedial actions would be taken on deficiencies in the accident report, including the lack of detailed analysis of contributing factors, the Air Force said.

Investigative Leads

The inspector general said it didn’t agree with the Air Force’s contention that the service “exhausted all investigative leads” before rendering its 2011 conclusion.

The Air Force failed to follow its own regulations that called for a “thorough discussion of the facts relevant to the accident” that are “fully supported by documentary evidence” and “self-contained” in the report, according to the inspector general.

The inspector general also said the Air Force’s 2011 conclusions violated a regulation that says findings “must be supported by credible evidence that shows it is highly probable that the conclusion is correct.”

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