Spatial Disorientation Caused Fatal F-16 Crash

Accident investigators determined that the pilot’s spatial disorientation caused an F-16 from Aviano AB, Italy, to crash in the Adriatic Sea on Jan. 28, claiming the pilot’s life, announced US Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa officials. A combination of factors—including weather conditions, the pilot’s use of night vision goggles, the aircraft’s attitude and high rate of speed, and the pilot’s breakdown in visual scan—caused the disorientation, states the command’s Oct. 30 release, which summarizes the findings of the command’s newly issued accident investigation report. The pilot, Maj. Lucas Gruenther, ejected, but did not survive the crash. He was a member of Aviano’s 555th Fighter Squadron. At the time of the crash, Gruenther was a captain; the Air Force posthumously promoted him to the rank of major. USAFE-AFAFRICA Vice Commander Lt. Gen. Tom Jones approved the AIB report without comments, according to the release. (AIB report; caution, large-sized file.)