As lucky as any plane crash can be
Stars and Stripes June 1, 2003
OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — Senior Airman Adrian McAfee was walking with a friend from the post exchange Thursday night when his friend noticed a flash from an F-16’s engine.
McAfee, 20, turned and saw the airborne fighter. He heard the boom from the canopy being jettisoned and saw the pilot’s parachute.
He said it was like a fire coming out of the back of the engine.
The plane disappeared behind trees, McAfee said. Then the two saw smoke. They already were hearing sirens by the time they could make a phone call.
McAfee said he knew the pilot was OK because he saw the parachute, but he was worried because the fighter “maybe landed off base.”
Osan officials are counting their blessings — the pilot ditched in a grassy area away from the heavily trafficked Doolittle Gate, which closed just moments before the crash.
“It was a very unfortunate accident, but the timing couldn’t have been any better,” said Maj. Pamela A. Moxley, the 51st Fighter Wing’s civil engineering commander.
The F-16, on a routine training mission with the 36th Fighter Squadron, crashed around 8 p.m. The fighter veered right shortly after taking off.
The pilot, who ejected and landed about 300 yards from the crash site, was treated for minor cuts to his right bicep. His name has not been released.
One woman, Yi Chun-mu, 58, was injured when debris from the plane bruised her right arm as she was driving home. Yi works for the Army and Air Force Exchange Service.
Her white Kia sedan — sitting near the crash site Friday — sustained a broken window and headlight and numerous dents and scratches from debris. Another vehicle had a damaged hood, but the driver was not injured, Moxley said.
Two static displays near Doolittle Gate, an F-86 Sabre and F-4 Phantom, suffered minor damage. The crash triggered a fireball that was put out by the base fire department.
Two other hot spots were extinguished, helped by damp ground, Moxley said.
The crash caused 20 mm rounds to scatter along the base’s Perimeter Road, and Explosive Ordnance Disposal airmen were dispatched, Moxley said. Airmen also looked outside the base Thursday and Friday for debris, but it’s believed most fell inside the base.
The aircraft was carrying inert bomb dummy units and a training captive missile.
Air Force personnel recovered the fighter’s canopy, one fuel tank and the ejection seat Thursday night. The flight data recorder also was found.
An Air Force crash investigation board had its first meeting Friday to look into the cause, Moxley said. It can take up to six months to complete an inquiry, said Maj. Edwina Walton, public affairs officer.
Col. Gregg Sanders, 51st Fighter Wing vice commander, said in a release that “the swift actions of the pilot prevented any loss of life and minimized damage to base property.”