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F-16 Pilot Knew Plane Was Airliner Pilot May Have Been Trying To Get Tail Number, Officials Say

The pilot of an F-16 fighter jet that came too close to a commercial airliner off the New Jersey coast two weeks ago had actually identified it as a passenger jet miles in advance, but continued to chase the Boeing 727 as an intruder into his airspace, Air Force officials said on Tuesday.

At one point, the pilot, who was instructing a trainee, told the trainee to stay out of the way “till this, uh, bozo gets out of the airspace,” said a transcript of conversations released by the Air Force on Tuesday.

The pilot came within 1,000 feet horizontally and 400 feet vertically of the civilian plane, setting off an anticollision system in the big jet’s cockpit and pushing it into evasive maneuvers that threw three people to the floor.

Air Force officials had said immediately after the incident that the pilot flew close to the jetliner to identify it and perhaps to determine whether it was in distress. On Tuesday, officials said that while the military pilot already knew he was dealing with a 727, he may have been trying to get close enough to read the tail number so he could report what he saw as a traffic violation.

Maj. Gen. Donald Peterson, the assistant deputy chief of staff for the Air Force, said the pilot may have wanted to make sure that the other plane left. Peterson stressed that the pilot broke no rules.


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