F-16 Air Force jet collides with private plane over Charleston, SC

A F-16 Air Force fighter jet broadsided a Cessna civilian aircraft head-on Tuesday, just north of Charleston, S.C. Most of the military aircraft landed in a wooded area of a privately owned rice plantation. The pilot, Maj. Aaron Johnson, ejected himself from the cockpit and parachuted to the ground safely and uninjured, while both people aboard the private plane were killed.

According to Col. Stephen Jost, commander of the 20th Fighter Wing which Johnson’s squadron fell under, the pilot was in “positive control” by air traffic advisers in Charleston – flying 230-290 mph at 2,000-3,000 feet of altitude.

Both the National Transportation Safety Board in Washington, and an Air Force forensics team are investigating the incident. The crash sites, which include a broad area northwest of Charleston scattered with debris, has attracted 150 people from 20 local and federal agencies.

Maj. Johnson was on a practice mission from nearby Shaw Air Force Base, outside of Columbia, S.C., approaching the Charleston base using instrument-assisted controls.

According to an official with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, “Witnesses have indicated the Cessna was flying along, pulled up, and the jet went through it.”

Most likely, Maj. Johnson was not aware of the Cessna’s proximity until it was too late, as small private planes often fly under radar detection systems.

A former Air Force investigator and South Carolina attorney says that the collision may be Maj. Johnson’s fault however because, “Even if you’re under radar control, the pilots still have the responsibility to see and avoid. Sometimes pilots can have a false sense of security when air traffic control tells them it has control.”

The difference between the two planes is obviously enormous, as the F-16 Fighting Falcon weighs 10 tons (without fuel or weapons) and measures 50 feet in length. The Cessna C-150, which first debuted in the late 1950’s, weighs a mere 1500 pounds (with a full-tank of fuel).

This is the sixth time in the past 10 years that a military plane has had a catastrophic accident in South Carolina. Three of the incidents have involved F-16s from Shaw Air Force Base, which is located halfway between the state capitol in Columbia and Interstate 95.



[The Post and Courier]