12/01/09 — Air Force releases report on crash

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Air Force releases report on crash

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on December 1, 2009 10:58 AM

Human error led to the July 18 F-15E Strike Eagle crash that killed two 4th Fighter Wing officers in Afghanistan, Air Force officials said during a teleconference this morning.

Accident Investigation Board president Brig. Gen. H.D. Polumbo reported the findings of a six-man panel, which concluded that "the cause of the mishap was the flight lead weapon systems officer's incorrect assessment of the target elevation and the mishap crew's reliance on this inaccurate number."

The fallen officers, 336th Fighter Squadron Capts. Mark McDowell and Thomas Gramith, were highly motivated and qualified to be flying close-air-support missions in theater, the general said.

But when they attempted to practice a night strafe procedure on their way back to Bagram Airfield from a combat mission, something went wrong.

McDowell and Gramith targeted a dry lake bed for the strafe, thinking, as reported by the flight lead WSO, that the average terrain for the area was 4,800 feet, when, in actuality, the bed's elevation was 10,200 feet, the accident report said.

Wingmen -- in this case McDowell and Gramith -- are expected to follow the flight lead's direction, but are also responsible for verifying data and attack parameter calculations, which they did not.

The flight lead initiated his "attack," but aborted due to a shallow dive angle. He then radioed McDowell and Gramith, who did not acknowledge the call or adjust their attack parameters.

Instead, the crew maneuvered for their attack.

Seconds before their F-15E Strike Eagle hit the ground, the aircraft's ground collision warning system alerted them to "pull up" four times, but they were unable to do so in a timely manner, the report said.

Polumbo said the crew had enough warning to avoid impact.

For complete analysis of the accident report, see Wednesday's News-Argus.