Engine malfunctions caused April Va. jet crash

Monday - 7/2/2012, 4:34pm EDT

By BROCK VERGAKIS
Associated Press

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) - A rare dual-engine failure caused a Navy jet to crash into a Virginia Beach apartment complex in April shortly after taking off from a nearby base, according to an investigative report released Monday.

No one was killed when the F/A-18D Hornet crashed into the Mayfair Mews apartment complex, although the impact destroyed 27 apartments, displaced dozens and injured seven. Navy officials say the jet's two-man crew ejected at the last second possible to survive, 50 feet above the ground. The entire flight lasted 70 seconds and the plane's peak altitude was 425 feet.

The plane was on its way to the Atlantic Ocean over a heavily populated area for a routine training mission at the time of the April 6 crash.

The Navy says human error was not to blame and there would be no disciplinary action against the plane's crew, who have not been publicly identified.

The commander of Naval Air Force Atlantic, Rear Adm. Ted Branch, said this is the first time there has been a dual-engine failure in an F/A-18 and that they were unrelated. Had only one engine failed, Branch said it's likely the jet could have continued flying.

Branch said he continues to have full confidence in the safety of the airplane, which the Navy has been flying for more than 30 years.

"This is our home. We recognize that flying here is not just a mission. Our families live here. When we fly here we're flying over our homes, schools and churches and day cares. We are not just concerned about the airplane and the pilots. We are concerned about our community," Branch said.

The report says the engines failed for different reasons. The right engine stopped working after it ingested a flammable liquid, according to the report. That liquid ignited and caused a catastrophic failure of the compressor, leading to an engine stall, according to the report.

The report says that in other crashes where the high-pressure compressor section blades in the engine failed, that liquid was later found to be fuel.

The problem with the left engine had to do with its afterburner not igniting. Investigators also said that the left afterburner experienced a blowout that wasn't detected by the engine control system. The Navy was unable to determine the exact cause of that problem because of the extensive damage to the plane.

"It was not a single failure, but an extremely unusual and complex multisystem emergency," Branch said.

Despite the failures, the investigative report said there was still a possibility that the plane could have continued flying if the plane's crew had realized that the first serious vibration they felt and heard coming from the right side of plane was not a blown tire.

Navy officials said the crew had no previous experience with a blown tire and that their reaction to what they saw and heard was reasonable. The Navy said the crew followed the proper procedures and that the loss of thrust in a second engine would be part of future training.

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Online: Brock Vergakis can be reached at www.twitter.com/BrockVergakis


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