The family of a dead F-22 Raptor fighter pilot said they have been vindicated by a damning Pentagon report that says the Air Force did not have the evidence to blame the pilot for the crash that took his life.
Jennifer Haney, sister of the late Capt. Jeff Haney and family spokesperson, told ABC News she was "very happy about the [Pentagon Inspector General] pointing out some of the discrepancies that we saw all along" in the Air Force's account of the November 2010 crash that killed her brother.
"In the end, I really hope Jeff's name will be cleared," she said. "I never have believed he was to blame."
The Haney crash was the centerpiece of an ABC News' "Nightline" investigation that aired May 2, 2012. Haney was killed during a routine training mission in Alaska shortly after his plane malfunctioned and his oxygen system shut down completely.
After investigating the incident for more than a year, the Air Force released a crash report in December 2011 that said that while Haney likely suffered a "sense similar to suffocation" before he died, he was still to blame for the crash because he was too distracted to fly the plane properly. Perhaps he was struggling to activate the manual emergency oxygen back-up system, the service said.
In the "Nightline" report, Jennifer Haney said in an exclusive interview that by blaming her brother rather than the $420 million plane, the Air Force showed it was more interested in protecting its $79 billion F-22 program than its airmen.
"To them, Jeff was a number, it feels like sometimes. But those jets are worth a lot of money," she said then.
The new Pentagon IG report, the result of the first major crash investigation review conducted by the IG's office since the mid-1990s and published Monday, says that the Air Force's conclusions are at times contradictory, incomplete or "not supported by the facts."
In response, the Air Force said it convened its own special task force to review its investigation, and the task force found the original conclusions were adequately supported.
"Now they will bicker back and forth, so we will have to wait and see what happens and what changes, if any, are made to the [Air Force] report," Jennifer Haney said Tuesday.
The F-22 Raptor is America's single most expensive fighter jet at an estimated $420 million each -- in all a $79 billion-and-counting program that represents part of the Air Force's costly foray into fifth-generation stealth fighters. The jets, which have yet to be sent on a combat mission, for years were plagued with a mysterious oxygen-related problem in which on rare occasions its pilots would report experiencing the symptoms of oxygen deprivation in mid-flight. The Air Force believes it has solved that problem.
On Nov. 16, 2010 Haney had just completed a routine training exercise when a malfunction in the plane shut down his oxygen system. Capt. Haney never made a distress call but took his plane into a dive and, a little over a minute later, crashed into the winter wilderness at faster than the speed of sound.