Missing Fastener Caused F-15E Crash

Missing Fastener Caused F-15E Crash

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- A missing 6-inch fastener brought down a multimillion-dollar F-15E Strike Eagle jet near its Goldsboro base this summer, according to an Air Force report.

Investigators found that maintenance workers at a Utah base failed to replace a hairpin-shaped piece called a "cotter key" that helped connect the pilot's controls to the plane's rear stabilizers, according to the report released Tuesday.

Without it, a nut popped off, a shaft disconnected, and the pilot lost control.

No one knew to alert 1st Lt. Christopher Jackson, the student pilot, or his instructor, Maj. John Voorhees, that the key was missing before they took off for a training exercise June 4, the report said.

Only after reaching 17,600 feet did Jackson feel the plane roll to the left, just as his display lit up and a warning blared.

Faulty sealants on the plane's nose, approved by a base crew at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, contributed to the spin, according to the report.

The pilot and instructor, who bailed out, suffered minor injuries, and no one on the ground was hurt. The $40.4 million aircraft crashed in a farmer's woods and was destroyed.

At Seymour Johnson, inspectors talked to a crew chief responsible for the plane since July 2002 who said he saw and approved the sealant repairs. The Air Force clarified inspection procedures, and workers reinspected the rest of the planes in the 4th Fighter Wing and brought them up to par.

At the time of the accident, the 4th Fighter Wing had 97 F-15Es assigned to Seymour Johnson.

Although responsible for the faulty sealants, the base crew could not have spotted the missing cotter key, investigators noted. The internal problem was caused by workers at Ogden Air Logistics Center, part of Utah's Hill Air Force Base, who were processing the plane's right stabilator actuator. The actuator is part of the rear steering system that controls the pitch of the plane.

That oversight did not indicate widespread maintenance failures, said Capt. Wes Ticer, a spokesman for Air Combat Command.

Maintenance supervisors in Utah have reviewed the crash report but were unavailable for comment, said Caroline Wellman, a spokeswoman at the base.

She said the depot continued to process F-15 parts in addition to F-16s.

"If this problem had occurred in other jets, then those jets would probably have gone down by now," she said. "It has to be an isolated incident."

An F-15E, also from Seymour Johnson, was lost this spring during the war in Iraq. Both crew members were killed, and the official cause hasn't been released. The plane lost in Johnson County had not flown in the Iraq war.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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