F-16 Crash May Have Been Caused by a Bird

Mike O'Brien

U.S. Air Force investigators probing Wednesday’s F-16 crash in Arizona believe it may have been caused by a bird.

The fighter jet came down shortly after take-off from the Luke Air Force Base in suburban Phoenix.

The two pilots, who were practicing landings and takeoffs, ejected safely and escaped with no injuries. The plane landed in a field.

Brig. Gen. Mike Rothstein, who commands the base, said: "Shortly before the accident the pilot reported a bird strike."

56th Operations Group commander Col. John Hanna added that the engine malfunctioned after the bird was hit.

He told the Associated Press: "It sounds like they did a good job, the airplane didn’t hit anybody or anything and they both survived with what I know is no injuries.

"It’s about as good as it gets when you have any kind of accident where you destroy an airplane."

Witnesses said they heard the jet’s engine sputtering and popping just before the plane went down.

Mr. Hanna said: "Certainly low altitude ejections are some of the more harrowing things that can happen, because you’re close to the ground and a lot of things have to happen in a hurry in order for all of the ejection process to occur successfully.

"You end up on the ground, able to stand, gather your gear and walk to the nearest pickup truck that’s got some water sitting in it. So this worked out pretty well."

Before the crash, Luke Air Force Base had 138 F-16s and is the world’s largest F-16 pilot training base. It is now preparing for the arrival of the F-35.

It is not unheard of for a bird strike to damage a jet engine. The most well-known case is U.S. Airways Flight 1549, which lost both engines shortly after take-off from LaGuardia Airport and landed safely on the Hudson River after hitting birds in January 2009.