September 17, 1997 in Nation/World

F-16 Fighter Jets Collide, Crews Survive

David Rohde New York Times
 

Two Air National Guard F-16 fighter jets collided in midair off Atlantic City, N.J., Tuesday night, sending one jet plummeting into the water, but all three crew members survived, Air Force officials said.

Coast Guard helicopters rescued two pilots from the 177th Fighter Group who parachuted into the Atlantic Ocean as their plane crashed, according to Petty Officer Jeff Fenn, a Coast Guard spokesman. The other fighter jet returned to its home base at Atlantic City International Airport, Brig. Gen. Ronald Sconyers, an Air Force spokesman, said.

Sconyers said he did not know the cause of the accident, but he said pilots frequently train by having one plane intercept the other by approaching it from behind at high speed.

Fenn said the Coast Guard helicopters, one from Cape May and the other from Brooklyn, plucked the pilots from the water shortly after 9 p.m., about an hour after the collision. He did not name the pilots, but said one was not hurt and the other suffered a gash over his eye and injured his hip.

A combination of flares, high-powered searchlights and good weather conditions with a full moon allowed the Coast Guard helicopter to find the two pilots quickly. They were floating separately in the Atlantic. “The Coast Guard helicopters have very large spotlights,” said Fenn. “They’re called sunlights. They’re very powerful.”

An F-16 from the 177th was also involved in an incident Feb. 5 in which the fighter flew too close to a commercial airliner off the New Jersey coast. The encounter set off a warning device in the Nations Air plane and led its pilot to take evasive actions, resulting in three people being thrown to the floor.

Officials later said the incident occurred because a military air traffic controller had not followed proper procedures. Investigators said the controller failed to tell two F-16 pilots that they were supposed to stay away from the civilian aircraft.

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