Commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic released the results today of its Judge Advocate General Manual investigation in to the crash of an F/A-18D into an apartment complex in Virginia Beach, Va., April 6.
The F/A-18D, assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron 106 and based at Naval Air Station Oceana, was conducting a scheduled training exercise when it suffered a catastrophic mechanical failure shortly after takeoff and crashed into the Mayfair Mews apartment complex in Virginia Beach.
“I know the process has been challenging for some, especially those who lost their homes and personal belongings,” said Rear Adm. Ted Branch, commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic. “But we are all incredibly fortunate that the crash, which occurred on Good Friday, resulted in zero loss of life.”
The recovery process was a team effort between Navy Region Mid-Atlantic and Virginia Beach first-responders who quickly began helping the affected residents. Branch said the emergency response cooperation between the city of Virginia Beach and the Navy is a testament to the close-working relationship that has developed over the years.
“I would like to add my thanks to everyone who acted so quickly to assist our aircrew, treat the injured citizens, and help ensure that all residents of the Mayfair Mews complex were safely evacuated,” said Branch. “This exceptional response almost certainly prevented further injury, and perhaps death, to affected citizens and aircrew, and more widespread property damage.”
The Navy has spent the past several weeks conducting a detailed investigation into the crash to learn what went wrong and how to minimize the chance of such an event from happening in the future.
“The aircrew followed their procedures, but given the cascading series of problems and lack of thrust and altitude, continued controlled flight was not possible,” said Branch. “It is our view that the aircrew’s assessments were reasonable given the initial indications, and their actions were in accordance with training and procedure.”
The JAGMAN investigation found that the crash occurred as a result of two significant, unrelated engine malfunctions, the first at takeoff and the second shortly after takeoff. The right engine failed due to ingestion of fuel into the right intake. The left engine afterburner failed to light when selected by the pilot after the right engine malfunction. Post-mishap analysis indicates the likely cause was failure of an electrical component, but several of the suspected components were damaged beyond the point of conclusive analysis in the crash and subsequent fire.
“While I recognize that these gaps are less than satisfying, we have a high degree of confidence in the F/A-18 airframe, and in the F404-GE-400 engine in the legacy Hornet,” said Branch. “The U.S. Navy has been flying the F/A-18 Hornet for more than 30 years, and we have found it to be an extremely safe and reliable aircraft.”
According to the Naval Safety Center, there has been a steady decline in the overall mishap rate for Naval Aircraft, and the Hornet mishap rate has followed this trend. The Naval Safety Center’s data indicate that the reliability of F404-GE-400 engine has been exceptionally good over the life of the F/A-18 program.
“We are confident that we can continue to conduct safe operations with the F/A-18, both here in Virginia Beach, and around the world,” said Branch. “Our concern is not just for our pilots and aircrew, but for our community. We operate every day with this in mind, and we are focused every day on ensuring that we have the best aircraft, operated by the best aircrew, conducting safe operations – we can accept nothing less.”