An Air Force investigation says an F-16 pilot failed “to positively identify the intended target” when he opened fire on a rental SUV occupied by two Fort Lewis soldiers last April at the Utah Test and Training Range.
The soldiers, from the post’s 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, narrowly avoided serious injury. One of the five 20mm rounds the pilot fired into the vehicle hit about a foot behind the driver’s side door, said a spokeswoman at Hill Air Force Base.
The two soldiers from 5th Brigade’s 8th Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment suffered cuts and scrapes when they jumped out of the truck. Through a Fort Lewis spokesman they declined to be interviewed Wednesday.
The mishap occurred about 10:50 p.m. April 8 as soldiers from the 8-1 and Air Force joint terminal attack controllers, or JTACs, from Fort Lewis’ 5th Air Support Operations Squadron trained with fighter pilots out of Hill.
Hill spokeswoman Lt. Beth Woodward identified the pilot only as a major with the 34th Fighter Squadron who was training for a May deployment to the Middle East. The squadron deployed on schedule but left the pilot at home, she said.
He had over 800 flying hours at the time of the mishap and was rated as current in his training and qualified to fly the mission.
The pilot was grounded during the investigation. As a result of the findings, he now must fly at the direction of a wingman and “additional classroom, simulator and flight training is required to ensure the individual is qualified for wing missions,” the 388th Fighter Wing said in a news release announcing the results of the investigation.
The night of the accident, the pilot was flying one of two jets intending to strafe a mock armored vehicle on the Utah training range. The two Fort Lewis soldiers were in their SUV parked near an observation post a mile-and-a-half away.
JTACs on the ground and the pilot’s wingman properly marked the correct target, and the soldiers in the SUV had properly marked their vehicle, Woodward said.
“The investigation team found it most likely that at some point in the pilot’s turn (which began at a lower altitude than the pilot planned), after looking inside the cockpit to check his flight parameters, he mistook the set of lights at the Hornet Tower Observation Point as the laser mark provided by his wingman,” she said. “In the end, he was trying to make the strafing pass work, and most likely was concentrating on his flight parameters more than the target area itself.”
Press release is below: