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Air Force Report Concludes F-16 Crashed After Pilot Tried to Relieve Himself

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The pilot of an Air Force F-16 was trying to urinate in a cockpit device when the $20-million plane went out of control at 28,000 feet and crashed at Palmdale Regional Airport in December, an Air Force report said Friday.

The report describes the events leading up to the Dec. 1 accident, but it does not assign blame for the crash. It does not mention any evidence of pilot error or equipment malfunction, nor does it say if the pilot’s attempt to urinate while flying on automatic pilot was a contributing factor.

The pilot, Capt. Craig Fisher, 29, was about 48 minutes into a flight from Luke Air Force Base in Arizona with two other planes to the Miramar Naval Air Station near San Diego when he attempted to use the so-called “piddle pack” and the aircraft went out of control, the report said.

An Air Force spokesman, Capt. Alan Sattler, said pilots commonly carry foam-filled rubber bags for urinating, but he could not recall one being involved in a crash.

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Fisher, described as “an experienced instructor pilot” with more than 1,356 hours of flying time, parachuted from the jet below 7,500 feet and landed safely with only a strained muscle in his neck, the report said. He was briefly hospitalized at nearby Edwards Air Force Base.

The single-engine, single-seat F-16C--a model the U.S. military used extensively in the Persian Gulf War--crashed and exploded 432 feet north of the passenger terminal at the small airport run by the city of Los Angeles in the Antelope Valley, the report said. The crash, shortly before 10 a.m., left a crater beside a runway.

There were no other injuries.

The aircraft, which was passing high above the airport, crashed there by chance, not because Fisher was trying to land there, the Air Force said at the time.

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Whether the Air Force has determined a cause for the crash, taken any action against the pilot, or instituted steps to prevent similar mishaps was not mentioned in the report. Sattler, a public affairs officer at Bergstrom Air Force Base in Austin, Tex., where the report was released, said such matters may have been addressed in a separate “mishap report” on the crash, which the Air Force considers confidential.

According to the released report, Fisher put his jet on autopilot about 40 minutes into the flight, took the piddle pack from his flight suit pocket, unlatched his lap belt, “and began to raise himself up and forward in the ejection seat.”

“He used his feet on the rudder pedals to help with this upward motion,” the report said. Then, the jet began a “very aggressive and rapid” roll to the right and down. Fisher unsuccessfully fought to regain control of the falling jet, including turning off the autopilot, before ejecting, the report said.

The wrecked jet had only 178.8 hours of flying time before its final flight, and had passed all the usual inspections, the report said. Fisher also passed a post-crash toxicological test, the report added.


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