Piecing Together Unseen Tragedy

The F-16 pilot involved in a fatal midair collision with a Cessna 150 on July 7? was actively looking for and maneuvering to avoid the civilian aircraft before impact, according to civil investigators. Air traffic control at JB Charleston, S.C. notified the F-16 pilot, who was on a practice instrument approach, to look for the light aircraft two miles directly ahead and below the fighter, according to the National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary report. The F-16 pilot responded that he was searching for the aircraft, and was directed to “turn left heading 180 [degrees] if you don’t have that traffic in sight,” according to the report. The F-16 pilot initiated the turn and was told that the traffic should be passing below him, just before impact. The Cessna was not in radio contact with controllers but was following established guidelines. Recovered debris indicates the aft fuselage of the F-16 struck the Cessna head-on, grazing the civil aircraft’s upper wing surface left to right, and obliterating the forward fuselage, which was largely unrecovered. The aircraft collided at approximately 1,400 feet altitude and debris—including large portions of the Cessna’s wings and aft fuselage—was contained within a relatively concentrated zone. Both people aboard the Cessna were killed, but the 20th Fighter Wing pilot from Shaw AFB, S.C., ejected without significant injury. NTSB stressed that the report findings are preliminary and subject to later change.