Pilots eject safely in field west of base
A student pilot and instructor from Luke Air Force Base were able to eject safely before their F-16 jet crashed just before 7 p.m. Wednesday in a field near Reems Road, just west of the base’s runway.
The pilots, who are in the 309th Fighter Squadron, had minor injuries, but walked away from the scene and were transported to a base hospital by Rural Metro Corp., officials said.
At the time of the incident, the pilots were conducting a routine “touch and go” training exercise, and the incident happened during the takeoff portion, Col. John Hanna said at a press conference.
“It’s actually too early to tell what the malfunction was,” he said. “It was severe enough to where the pilots on board the aircraft realized that they were not going to be able to execute a safe landing. So in accordance with our training procedures, they made a smart decision to eject from the aircraft.”
The Air Force will conduct a thorough investigation to determine the cause of the accident, base officials said.
No damages have been reported to structures or private property, officials said.
“The first responders were outstanding,” Luke Wing Commander Brig. Gen. Michael Rothstein said in a press release. “An incident like this highlights the close cooperation between our fire and emergency services and their counterparts in the surrounding community.”
Arthur Sneeden, owner of A and M Equestrian at 16025 W. Glendale Ave., saw the jet overhead near his property before it crashed.
“We were tacking horses up when we first realized there was a plane in distress because of the noise it was making,” he said.
Sneeden dialed 911 at 6:54 p.m. as he saw the F-16 flying south over the runway on base and start sputtering and flaming out, he said.
“As [the pilot] got to the south end of the runway, he made a right turn and came back around to make a landing,” Sneeden said. “Obviously, he made a decision almost immediately, because this thing was popping and banging.”
The pilots ejected out of the jet and landed near Reems Road and Glendale Avenue, he said. At that point, the jet was heading in a northwest direction toward Surprise.
“We lost sight of it and I explained to the people who were with me that this is not a good thing,” Sneeden said. “All of a sudden, we heard a pop and bang and it was back over us. It had completely done a U-turn.”
The jet crashed southeast of his property, barely avoiding other farms in the area. Despite the incident, Sneeden still feels safe living next to the base, he said.
“These guys fly all the time straight over my property and I wave at pilots,” Sneeden said. “We love the Air Force and love them being there. None of my neighbors have any issue, and the safety record of the base is second to none.”
The last jet to crash near Luke was April 11, 2006, when a minor engine explosion from a valve malfunction caused an F-16 to go down in a cabbage field near Camelback Road and Cotton Lane.
The pilot, Capt. James Attaway, 26, parachuted to safety, but the jet was destroyed on impact, according to a report by Air Force investigators.
On March 14, 2008, a student pilot from Luke was killed when he crashed in a remote area after losing consciousness.
The pilot, 2nd Lt. David Mitchell, 26, was on an air-to-air “dog-fight” training mission in the Gladden Bagdad military operating area about 80 miles northwest of Phoenix when his jet crashed in rugged terrain.
The accident investigation board determined the cause of the mishap was Mitchell’s loss of consciousness from not properly managing high gravitational forces while executing a turning maneuver, an Air Force release stated.
Emily McCann can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @NewsbyEmily.