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WESTON HILLS JET CRASH ANNIVERSARY: 'A very significant and emotional event'

The accident which saw an American plan crash in Weston Hills five years ago happened less than two months into the command tour of 48th Fighter Wing vice commander Col John Stratton.

At the time, he was also 493rd Squadron Commander, to which the F-15D belonged.

“It was a very significant and emotional event for the entire squadron, and our aircraft maintenance unit, but we were all relieved the pilot made a good decision to eject and no one was injured as a result of the crash.

The scene of the crash.
The scene of the crash.

“The entire squadron and wing responded professionally and expeditiously to recover the pilot and preserve any evidence for the ensuing safety investigation. The Supervisor of Flying did an outstanding job co-ordinating with wing and squadron Leadership to keep them updated on the situation while also co-ordinating with airborne search and rescue assets to facilitate a quick recovery. The wing stood up the Crisis Action Team to ensure all base resources were fully engaged to facilitate the recovery of the pilot and preservation of the accident site. They also conducted extensive co-ordination with first responders from the local community to secure the crash site until US forces arrived.

“Overall, we were fortunate no one was injured and a relatively small amount of property was damaged on the ground.

The pilot is an outstanding officer and a very talented and accomplished pilot. He we shaken by the event but returned to flight status fairly quickly – at the wing and squadron leadership’s discretion and in consultation with the safety board.

Weston Hill jet crash.
Weston Hill jet crash.

“He quickly visited the base aircrew flight equipment shop, who packs the parachutes and ensures our survival equipment is always ready and in the best condition, to express his thanks and admiration to the airmen there for doing their job so well. Additionally, the pilot received an enormous outpouring of support from the Weston Hills community – in particular the school near where the aircraft landed.

“The students sent notes of support and drew him pictures which he still has framed and hanging on the walls in his house in the United States.

“Our maintenance group was recently recognised as one of the best in the entire Department of Defense and they take their mission to keep our aircraft in top condition very seriously. We have some of the brightest maintenance professionals in the Air Force who are continuously incorporating new technology and innovating practices that ensure the integrity of every aircraft in our inventory.”

Col Jason Camilletti, 48th Operations Group commander, leads all three of the USAF’s flying squadrons at RAF Lakenheath and describes the actions and learnings since October 2014.

Smoke billows from the wreckage.
Smoke billows from the wreckage.

“From both an ops training and maintenance procedures perspective, we scrutinise aircraft conditions in great detail to ensure accidents like the F-15D crash don’t happen again,” he said. “For example, our maintenance group has utilised 3D printing to repair and replace aircraft cover parts with more accuracy and precision than ever before.

“Our maintainers have also invented a new stand specifically designed to protect the radomes when removed from the aircraft, an innovation the Air Force has implemented across the fleet. On the ops side, we have implemented a controlled exercise we fly on every sortie to assess the aircraft’s stability before applying extreme angles of attack.

He added: “Liberty Wing aircrew desire to fly over water and seek to manoeuvre over unpopulated areas when our training requires us to fly over land. The wing received great support from the local first responders as well as council members in the area following the Weston Hills crash. We value our relationship with the local community and are very thankful for their continued support as we work to secure the sovereign skies.”

The scene of the crash.
The scene of the crash.

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