AF investigators cite pilot error in fighter crash
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Poor situational awareness was the likely cause of a Sept. 9 fighter crash into the Yellow Sea, Air Force investigators announced Thursday.
An accident investigation board faulted both Capt. Kevin Dydyk, the 35th Fighter Squadron pilot whose F-16 plunged into the ocean about 56 miles southwest of Kunsan Air Base, and Capt. Todd Houchins, a pilot acting as instructor for the flight.
Col. Bennet Bitler, investigation board president, concluded the crash was caused by “poor technique for maintaining floor awareness” and the belief that neither pilot “gained enough situational awareness early enough to prevent the F-16 from impacting the water,” according to an Air Force news release.
According to the investigation report, Dydyk was the lead pilot in a two-plane formation conducting defensive dogfight maneuvers over the Yellow Sea. On the sixth and final engagement of the day, the report said, Dydyk unknowingly began an engagement just 800 feet above the maneuver “floor” of 5,000 feet above sea level.
Immediately after Houchins called “fight’s on” to begin the engagement, Dydyk began a series of “aggressive tuck-under vertical defensive maneuvers” while his power was at idle and his speed brakes extended. According to the report, the maneuver caused his aircraft to dip below the floor altitude.
Dydyk then stopped his maneuvers, called “terminate” to end the engagement and tried to recover a level flight altitude.
Three seconds after calling terminate, the board reported, Dydyk realized he was about to hit the water and ejected. One second later, his F-16 slammed into the ocean. Dydyk suffered minor injuries and was plucked from the water some 90 minutes later by a Republic of Korea Air Force search and rescue team.
The total time between the “fight’s on” call and ejection was approximately 25 seconds, the report found.
“Investigators determined Capt. Dydyk failed to crosscheck his aircraft’s altitude during the mission engagement and had no situational awareness of his altitude or proximity to the water until he reached approximately 1,500 feet above the sea,” the Air Force release said.
Houchins also failed to use visual and aural cues to maintain awareness of his or Dydyk’s altitudes, the report found. Houchins wasn’t aware of either aircraft’s altitude until Dydyk’s plane hit the water.
Houchins’ own F-16 was just 450 feet above the water at that time, investigators said.
“Both pilots were in a position to discover the low altitude condition but neither gained enough situation awareness early enough to prevent the crash,” the Air Force concluded.