Capt. Jeff Haney was flying the Air Force's next-generation stealth F-22 Raptor on a routine training mission in Alaska in November 2010 when a sudden malfunction cut off his oxygen completely. 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.
After a lengthy investigation, an Air Force Accident Investigation Board could not find the cause of the malfunction but determined "by clear and convincing evidence" that in addition to other factors, Haney was to blame for the crash because he was too distracted by his inability to breathe to fly the plane properly.
But Haney's sister, Jennifer, told ABC News in an exclusive interview she believes her brother blacked out trying to save himself and said that by blaming him, the Air Force was attempting to deflect attention from the ongoing, mysterious oxygen problem with the costly planes.
"I don't agree with [the Air Force]. I think there was a lot more going on inside that cockpit," Jennifer Haney said. "A cover-up? I don't know. But there's something."
In at least 25 cases since 2008, F-22 pilots have reported experiencing "hypoxia-like symptoms" in mid-air, according to the Air Force. Last year the Air Force grounded the full fleet of F-22s for nearly five months to investigate, but still no one knows what is going wrong, even as the planes are back in the air. Hypoxia is caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain and is characterized by dizziness, confusion, lack of judgment and, eventually, unconsciousness.
In one case before the grounding, a pilot became so disoriented that his plane dropped down and skimmed treetops before he managed to save himself and return to base, an Air Force spokesperson told ABC News. Presumably speaking of the same incident, Gordon told "60 Minutes" the pilot had to be told he had hit the trees -- he didn't remember doing it himself.
Wilson described experiencing apparent hypoxia while in the cockpit as a "surreal experience" and Gordon said the onset is "insidious."
"Some pilots will go the entire mission, land and not know anything went wrong," Gordon said.
To Jennifer Haney, every time an F-22 goes up, it's risking the life of its pilot. She spoke to ABC News because she said she couldn't stand to see another family go through what hers had.
"I know that the Air Force has said that they were very proud to have Jeff and are very sorry for our loss -- well then, in Jeff's name, fix this," she said. "We want to make sure Jeff did not die in vain -- that his death will mean something and that if it saves lives of pilots now, future pilots, then he died for the greater good or something."
The Air Force has already begun to enact changes to the jet in hopes of mitigating the oxygen problem, including adding pilot-monitoring equipment and improving the emergency oxygen system.
But for all their effort, the Air Force still doesn't have what Jennifer Haney said is most important both to her family and to the families of pilots that risk their lives every day at the controls of the F-22: answers.
"I believe Jeff deserves that. That was my baby brother and I believe he deserves that. He deserves the truth to be told as to what happened. Not anybody's guesses," she said. "He deserves the truth. He deserves honor and so do his little girls."