On July 7, 2015, at approximately 11:00 a.m., a US Air Force F-16 collided in mid-air with a Cessna 150 approximately 25 miles north of Charleston, South Carolina. The pilot and passenger of the Cessna were tragically killed while the pilot of the fighter jet ejected after the collision and is expected to make a full recovery. The F-16 military aircraft was on a training mission between the Air Force base located in Sumter, South Carolina, and the Joint Base in Charleston which serves as a military and civilian airport. The Cessna 150 had just taken off from the Berkeley County Airport which is located between the Sumter and Charleston bases.
The investigation is being conducted jointly by the National Transportation Safety Board and the US military and will undoubtedly focus on the location of the collision and whether it occurred within an active Military Operating Area. The investigation will also look at a number of other issues, including whether the aircraft were operating under Visual or Instrument Flight rules and the role that air traffic control played with respect to providing each pilot with information concerning the location of the other aircraft. Although pilots have a responsibility to “see and avoid” one another under the Federal Aviation Regulations, in certain circumstances air traffic control has an obligation to provide pilots with traffic information concerning the location of other aircraft. Unfortunately, the speed at which an F-16 travels likely makes the “see and avoid” concept difficult, if not impossible.
Mid-air collisions of this type are indeed rare but unfortunately do occur. The partners at Speiser Krause have extensive experience in mid-air collision cases, including the mid-air collision over the Hudson River in New York City which took the lives of nine individuals. In addition, Dan Barks, as a former military aviator is intimately familiar with the rules governing the operation of military aircraft in civilian airspace.