Thursday, July 26, 2012

Hawker Hunter F.Mk.58, Airborne Tactical Advantage Co., N329AX: Accident occurred May 18, 2012 in Point Mugu, California

NTSB Identification: DCA12PA076
14 CFR Public Use
Accident occurred Friday, May 18, 2012 in Point Mugu, CA
Aircraft: HAWKER AIRCRAFT LTD HAWKER HUNTER MK.58A, registration: N329AX
Injuries: 1 Fatal.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed.

On May 18, 2012 at 1212 pacific standard time, a Hawker Hunter Mk 58, single-seat turbojet fighter type aircraft, registration N329AX, operated by Airborne Tactical Advantage Company (ATAC) under contract to Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) crashed while on approach to Naval Air Station Point Mugu, California (NTD). The sole occupant pilot aboard was killed, and the airplane was substantially damaged by impact forces and fire. The pilot reported a fuel transfer problem prior to the accident. The flight was conducted under the provisions of a contract between ATAC and the U.S. Navy to provide ATAC owned and operated aircraft to support adversary and electronic warfare training with Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 101 (VMFAT-101). The airplane was operating as a non-military public aircraft under the provisions of Title 49 of the United States Code (U.S.C.) Section 40102 and 40125.


A preliminary investigation of a recent fatal plane crash near CSU Channel Islands and Point Mugu shows the pilot reported a fuel transfer problem before going down. 

It's unclear, however, if that actually was a factor in the plane crash. The National Transportation Safety Board has released a preliminary report on the incident, but a more in-depth review and information about a probable cause likely will take at least several more months, officials said.

Along with the federal investigation, Airborne Tactical Advantage Co., a civilian contractor at Naval Base Ventura County and other military facilities, initiated its own review of the May 18 crash, said spokesman Matt Bannon.

The Virginia-based company suspended flight operations, hired an outside team to investigate and had its own safety team do a "head to toe" review, he said.

"It's inappropriate for ATAC to speculate what the cause of the accident was until the NTSB releases their report," said Bannon, business development director and a pilot for the company.

Airborne Tactical's preliminary review, however, "has not found any aircraft malfunctions that should have contributed" to the plane going down, he said.

Regarding the fuel transfer report, Bannon said it's not uncommon for such planes to have a series of different fuel tanks that transfer into a main tank. A pilot having to deal with such an issue also would not be uncommon, he said.

The crash occurred during a fighter-training mission for the military. The Hawker Hunter jet was returning to the Point Mugu airstrip at Naval Base Ventura County on May 18 when it crashed into a field near CSU Channel Islands about 12:15 p.m.

Airborne Tactical has a team of mechanics and pilots who fly out of Point Mugu to support Navy training missions. The company has its own squadron of mostly retired Navy and Air Force pilots. Their job is to stage aerial dogfights or mock attacks.

Airborne Tactical employee Thomas Bennett, 57, of Camarillo was killed in the crash. He joined the Navy in June 1976 and flew tactical jet aircraft for nearly three decades before retiring, according to the company.

Naval Base Ventura County officials declined to comment about the incident because it did not involve a Navy-owned plane.

It was the second fatal crash for Airborne Tactical. Another pilot was killed March 6 when his Israeli-built Kfir jet crashed into a building while landing in unexpectedly severe snow and wind at Naval Air Station Fallon in Nevada.

"We went 16 years without ... a fatality. Then all of a sudden we had two in a very short stretch. It's been a tough time," Bannon said.

The two accidents appeared unrelated because they involved different types of jets, different locations and different weather conditions. It was a clear day when the plane went down in Ventura County.

"We peeled back every process, from operations to maintenance ... to see where we could get better or where processes could be improved to prevent a tragedy like this from happening again," Bannon said.

The company didn't find any problems but did make some minor tweaks, he said.

"When something bad happens, you just wholesale look at every single process and try to change it for the better," Bannon said. "That's what I think we tried to do.
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