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Navy Pilot’s Errors Contributed to Fatal Crash, Report Says

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Piloting mistakes by Lt. Kara Hultgreen while attempting to land on a pitching carrier deck contributed to the fatal crash of the F-14A Tomcat she was flying in October, according to a report of an internal Navy investigation into the accident.

An earlier inquiry made by the Navy’s legal staff cleared Hultgreen--the Navy’s first female fighter pilot--of responsibility for the Oct. 25 crash. And the more recent document, called a Mishap Investigation Report, stops short of blaming the crash on pilot error.

But the lengthy accident investigation report completed last week listed several mistakes that investigators attributed to Hultgreen, 29, and that they say contributed to the plane’s left engine stalling.

The report was released by the Navy Safety Center in Norfolk, Va., and was compiled from the findings of a six-member investigation board--all aviators--including three officers from Hultgreen’s squadron.

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The earlier report by the legal staff, which was released last month, blamed the crash on the failure of the plane’s left engine as Hultgreen and radar intercept officer Lt. Matthew Klemish were attempting to land on the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln.

Klemish ejected safely from the plane and was rescued from the water minutes later. Hultgreen’s body was recovered 19 days later, when wreckage of the plane was found in the Pacific about 50 miles off San Diego.

Aviators who conducted the accident investigation said Hultgreen failed to line up directly on the center line of the landing deck. Hultgreen’s last-minute attempt to correct her approach “led to reduced engine stall margin, contributing to left engine stall,” the accident report said. The document noted that the F-14A is capable of flying on one engine if the other fails.

Although the earlier investigation by the legal staff blamed the crash on the failure of the left engine to operate properly, the accident board’s investigation said the “left engine was found to be fully capable of producing normal power at impact” with the water.

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Rear Adm. Jay B. Yakeley told a news conference last month that the reason for the engine failure may never be known, although he said one probable cause was the failure of an air valve to open. But both reports said the faulty valve alone was not enough to stall the engine.

Hultgreen ranked No. 1 in defending the fleet from simulated attacks by enemy aircraft and in air refueling, the report said. She ranked No. 2 in tactics to evade enemy aircraft and in combined familiarization with tactics and aircraft. According to the report, Hultgreen had a total of 1,242 hours of flying time and 58 carrier landings, including 17 night landings.


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