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Report: Lack Of Experience, Poor Communication Led To Ditching Of USS Vinson Fighter

An E/A-18G launches from USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70), July 31, 2017.

Credit: Defense Department

Above: An E/A-18G launches from USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70), July 31, 2017.

A new report sheds light on another Navy mishap in the western Pacific. A fighter pilot from the San Diego-based USS Carl Vinson crashed in the Celebes Sea during a training exercise in April.

An unnamed Navy captain, with more than 4,000 flight hours, was forced on April 21 to ditch his F/A-18E Super Hornet on approach to the carrier. He ejected safely, but the $88.7 million aircraft was lost.

KPBS recently obtained a copy of the command investigation through a Freedom of Information Act Request. The USS Carl Vinson was in the middle of a deployment that included the waters off Korea. Near the end of the exercise, the F-18 experienced multiple emergencies, including hydraulic failure.

Naval Reserve Lt. Cmdr. Nick Kesler reviewed the Navy’s report for KPBS. Kesler was a helicopter pilot on board a carrier in the Pacific in the 2000s.

“It definitely does look like it was a breakdown in communication,” Kesler said. “A misdiagnoses of the emergency at hand. But everything happened so quick that it can be difficult to diagnose that emergency.”

The report questions whether the seasoned pilot should have communicated more effectively. It also questions whether a junior officer in the tower had enough experience. A Naval Air Force spokesman said Tuesday that after the accident, Naval Air Wing Two began requiring a minimum of 200 flight hours for pilots working in the flight tower.

No disciplinary action was taken against any member of the flight team.

Mishaps among F-18s remain rare, though in August a Marine pilot ejected in the waters off of San Diego when two F/A-18s struck one another mid-air during an exercise.

Navy investigation probes the cause of the spring crash involving an F-18 Super Hornet in the western Pacific.

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