Equipment Failure Likely Cause of Crash; Kennedy F-14 Pilot Killed during Launch

Article excerpt

Byline: Rachel Davis, Times-Union staff writer

Aircraft equipment failure likely caused the March 2 crash of an F-14B Tomcat launching off the Jacksonville-based USS John F. Kennedy in the Mediterranean Sea, according to an investigation report released by the Navy yesterday.

The nose landing gear assembly, not the aircraft carrier's catapult, was to blame for the crash that killed pilot Lt. Cmdr. Christopher M. Blaschum and injured Lt. j.g. Rafe Wysham. Because the aircraft has not been fully recovered, the exact cause of the crash could not be determined.

Navy officials suspended carrier operations for its F-14 Tomcats after the crash until the nose wheel assemblies could be inspected for corrosion.

When the crash occurred, the Kennedy was en route to relieve the USS Theodore Roosevelt in Operation Enduring Freedom and was conducting routine flight-training operations about 60 miles south of the island of Crete.

Both aviators were with the Virginia Beach-based Fighter Squadron 143 attached to the Kennedy air wing. Blaschum was 33.

Witnesses reported a loud bang and smoke and parts exuding from the aircraft, about two-thirds the way down the catapult.

"A fraction of a second later I felt a significant nose-down movement. I would guess our nose dropped 4 to 5 feet," said Wysham in his testimony to the investigating officer. The aircraft slowed and slipped off the flight deck, according to the report. …