F-22 Fighter Crash Questions Linger: Pentagon Reviews Air Force Report
Fighter ace Capt. Jeff Haney killed in November 2011 crash after malfunction.
Feb. 9, 2012 — -- The Department of Defense is reviewing the Air Force's investigation into a deadly F-22 jet crash that claimed the life of fighter pilot Capt. Jeff Haney -- a crash that the Air Force blamed on Haney, despite a malfunction that caused his oxygen system to shut off mid-flight.
Launched by the Pentagon's Inspector General, the assessment aims to make sure the Air Force adhered to proper procedures during their investigation of the 2010 crash in the Alaskan wilderness and "will also verify that [the Air Force's] conclusions are supported by evidence of record consistent with standards of proof," according to a Jan. 25 letter from the Inspector General's office to the Secretary of the Air Force, as posted on the Air Force Magazine website.
In December the Air Force released its findings from an intense, months-long investigation into the crash, concluding that even though an unknown malfunction caused Haney's oxygen system to shut down -- leaving Haney to experience "a sense similar to suffocation" -- it was Haney's fault that the plane went down.
"By clear and convincing evidence, I find the cause of the mishap was the [pilot's] failure to recognize and initiate a timely dive recovery due to channelized attention, breakdown of visual scan and unrecognized spatial disorientation," the president of the investigation board, Brig. Gen. James Browne, said in conclusion. The report said Haney failed to activate his emergency oxygen system -- which the Air Force admitted is difficult to reach in winter gear -- or to take the plane low enough for him to simply take off his mask to breathe.
The stealth F-22 Raptor, America's most expensive jet at $143 million-a-pop, has been plagued with rare but potentially deadly apparent oxygen problems as pilots have reported "hypoxia-like symptoms" in several instances since 2008.
Family and friends of Haney's blasted the Air Force for its report on a Facebook memorial page for Haney, with one of the page's administrators writing, "So by this logic, next the Army will say soldiers killed in action were in fact not killed by enemy gun fire [but] they died from a lack of blood volume and intact organs [and] were at fault for not seeking medical attention in a timely manner."
A spokesperson for the Pentagon's Inspector General's office told ABC News the additional review was self-initiated -- meaning it was not ordered by a member of Congress -- and does not yet have an expected completion date. The spokesperson said she could not comment on what compelled the office to conduct the review.
Air Force Guessing on Cause of Malfunction
Haney had just completed a routine training mission over Alaska in November 2010 and was returning to base when he suddenly went off radio contact, turned his plane into a downward dive before apparently trying to pull up at the last second -- just moments too late to save his life.
In addition to the released 40-odd-page public investigation report, ABC News has obtained nearly 1,000 pages of Air Force documents relating to the crash investigation through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Those documents show that the Air Force has been left guessing as to what caused an apparent leak in an engine system that automatically forced the plane to shut off Haney's oxygen. Their best guess, the documents revealed, is that there was a "leaking duct, valve, clamp or seal" somewhere.
Just moments before the malfunction, Haney appeared to be having fun after a successful training mission. His last words, according to a transcript of radio calls obtained by ABC News, was a taunting challenge to a fellow pilot: "Race you to CRUZR," he said, presumably referring to a checkpoint before heading back to base.
"He was kind of saying it joking, kind of just enjoying the night of flying, if you will," the other pilot, identified only as mishap flight leader, told Air Force investigators.
But then Haney disappeared from sight and was never seen again.