An Air Force investigation determined that pilot error caused two fighter jets to crash in September during a training mission at the Nevada Test and Training Range.
The crash, which happened about 55 miles northwest of Nellis Air Force Base on the night of Sept. 6, was caused by “an unintentional failure to adhere to established altitude deconfliction procedures,” according to the accident investigation board report obtained by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Both pilots, who parachuted from their respective A-10C Thunderbolt II jets, survived the collision and suffered only minor injuries.
The pilots were to maintain a 1,000-foot buffer while in the air. The report shows that one pilot was assigned to fly at 10,000 feet, while the other would fly at between 11,000 and 12,000 feet.
The investigation revealed that both fighter jets initially flew at their correct altitudes, but the pilot flying at the lower elevation said he did not hear a notification indicating that he had entered the buffer zone about one minute before the crash. The report determined the miscommunication happened due to “increased radio communications” and that “coordination with other participants and tasks related to weapons delivery” distracted him from effectively crosschecking his altitude.
Just before colliding at 7:44 p.m., the investigation determined, the pilots were unaware that they were both flying at an altitude of about 11,400 feet.
Each of the destroyed fighter jets was worth $18.8 million, the report said. The cleanup cost was estimated at approximately $108,000.
Other factors that contributed to the collision included “task over-saturation, misperception of changing environment, breakdown in visual scan and environmental conditions affecting vision.”
It was the second training-related crash at the Nellis range that week. On Sept. 5, Lt. Col. Eric Schultz, an Air Force pilot, died when his plane crashed during a training mission northwest of the base.