2014 Super Hornet crash off Virginia Beach was “preventable”

Posted at 6:50 PM, Jan 15, 2015
and last updated 2015-01-15 20:35:26-05

Norfolk, Va. - The crash of a Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet one year ago off the coast of Virginia Beach "was a preventable mishap" according to a Navy investigation.

A redacted copy of the Command Investigation into the crash of the VFA-143 FA-18E on January 15, 2014 was provided in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by WTKR NewsChannel 3.

It was 2:30 p.m. on January 15, 2014 when the call went out over the radio.

"Mayday, mayday, mayday, aircraft in the water."

14 seconds earlier, the pilot of the Super Hornet with side number 103 assigned to the "Pukin Dogs" of Strike Fighter Squadron 143 at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach had hit the ejection handle.

According to the Navy's investigation, the pilot lost "situational awareness regarding his altitude, airspeed and rate of descent, descending more than 9,220 feet in just 44 seconds."

The investigator also wrote, "I believe the [pilot's] lack of proficiency and experience in wearing and employing the JHMCS was a contributing factor to the mishap."

The Joint Helmet-Mounted Cueing System is a specialized helmet that beams flight data onto the pilot's visor.

According to the investigation, the pilot had not taken a recommended computer training-course before using the JHMCS and very few squadrons at NAS Oceana knew about the course when questioned by investigators.

The name of the pilot was redacted in the investigation report.

He ejected from the aircraft while it was still flying more than 600 miles per hour.

The pilot was in the Atlantic Ocean for approximately 55 minutes before being hoisted into a helicopter by a Navy rescue swimmer.

A fishing vessel on scene "attempted to throw a survival ring to the [pilot] several times, and reported the [pilot] was unable to grab the ring, was asking for help, and was having trouble breathing."

He told investigators that he did not remember "the ejection sequence, water impact, time in the water, the search and rescue (SAR) event" or the flight to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital nor his initial hours in the hospital.

On his way there, crew members on the helicopter assessed the injured pilot as suffering from "hypothermia, broken arms, bruising to the head and face, and possible concussion."

He was also "in and out of consciousness asking for help and flailing about."

The Navy investigation found that his injuries "were inflicted by the high-speed ejection."

The $85 million Super Hornet was deemed a "total loss" and "was not salvaged."

The investigation recommended that all Hornet, Super Hornet and Growler squadrons be briefed on the findings of the Safety Investigation Report.

All VFA squadrons were also recommended to receive the latest version of the JHMCS Interactive Courseware.

Full report: Navy investigation of January 15, 2014 F/A-18E crash off Virginia Beach

Previous Coverage:

Update: Pilot listed as stable after Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet crash in Virginia Beach

F/A-18E crash