Fighter Jet and Cessna 150 Collide Near Charleston, SC
- A Cessna 150 and a Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter jet collided approximately two miles southeast of Berkeley County Airport (“MKS”), near Moncks Corner, SC, killing two on board the Cessna; the F-16 pilot ejected approximately six miles south of the mid-air collision site.
- Kreindler attorneys include military-trained pilots and aviation accident investigators who are familiar with the responsibilities of both the pilots and air traffic control when military aircraft are flying near small airports.
On July 7, 2015, at approximately 11:00 a.m. EST, a Cessna 150 and a Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter jet collided approximately two miles southeast of Berkeley County Airport (“MKS”), near Moncks Corner, SC. On board the Cessna were father and son Michael and Joseph Johnson, who both perished. The two were en route to Myrtle Beach, SC, and had just departed the Berkeley County Airport. The pilot of the F-16 flew on for another three minutes and then safely ejected approximately six miles south of the mid-air collision site.
The F-16, based out of Shaw Air Force Base, approximately 50 miles north of Charleston, was on an instrument flight plan and was conducting a practice instrument approach to the Charleston Air Force Base (CHS), which is located approximately 16 miles south of the collision site.
The relevant timeline is as follows:
1055 - air traffic control (ATC) instructs F-16 to descend to 1600 feet for the practice instrument approach. The F-16 is 34 miles northeast of CHS and flying westerly on a 260 heading.
1057:41 - the Cessna appears on radar at an altitude of 200 feet at the departure end of Runway 23 at MKS and began a climb in a southeast direction over the next three minutes.
1100:18 - ATC advised the F-16 pilot that the Cessna was straight ahead of him, two miles away at an altitude of 1200 feet. (The Cessna was not required to be in radio communications with ATC and was not.)
1100:26 - ATC advised the F-16 to turn left to a southerly heading of 180 if it did not have the Cessna in sight. (The F-16 pilot did not report the Cessna in sight.)
1100:34 - ATC again advised the F-16, this time “immediately,” to turn left to a heading of 180 if it did not have the Cessna in sight.
1100:34-52 - the F-16 performs a gradual turn of 45 degrees over 18 seconds at an altitude of 1500 feet.
1100:52 - ATC advises the F-16 that traffic is passing below at 1400 feet.
1100:54 - the last radar return for the Cessna is observed; the F-16 radar return indicates it is 1000 feet laterally from the Cessna and at an altitude of 1500 feet.
1101:19 - the F-16 transmits a distress call.
From a legal perspective, the role of the government, whether through ATC or the U.S. Air Force (USAF), is clearly implicated in this crash.
Since the F-16 was on an instrument flight plan, the F-16 was under ATC control, and ATC was obligated to timely and appropriately warn the F-16 pilot about the conflict with the Cessna. The F-16 was obligated to timely and properly follow ATC directions and to abide by the published instrument procedure.
After monitoring and warning about the Cessna for at least 16 seconds, ATC ultimately directed the F-16 to turn south “immediately.” The F-16, however, entered a very gradual 2.5 deg/sec turn, which is essentially the type of turn used by commercial airlines when flying in actual instrument conditions—not an evasive maneuver by a fighter in visual conditions. The ATC clearance and the published approach required the F-16 to maintain 1600 feet, not 1500. While there is a certain margin of error with radar, if the F-16 was in fact at 1500 feet, it was in violation of the clearance and the published instrument approach.
Also, ATC’s decision to give the F-16 radar vectors that would place it so close to the Berkeley County Airport at such a low altitude should be examined. Likewise, the USAF would be responsible for any of its pilot’s failing to properly see and avoid the other aircraft and to fly clear of known airfields.
As a former military pilot, we were taught to maintain at least 5 miles and 1,500 feet above such small airports precisely because of the small aircraft traffic in the vicinity of those airports.
While it is still early in the investigation, the government’s conduct in this case should be closely scrutinized.
The NTSB preliminary report for this crash has been issued.