The deadly crash of a Swiss F/A-18 fighter jet last October was caused by human error and a failed turn led it to hit a cliff overlooking Lake Alpnach near Lucerne, a military judge declared on Monday. The pilot and his passenger were killed in the accident.
“Under growing pressure, the pilot badly appreciated the situation at the critical moment. He overestimated the space available to change direction, waited too long to make a 180-degree turn and failed to complete the manoeuvre,” a statement from the defence ministry said.
Two F/A-18 fighter jets took off from Meiringen military airport on October 23, 2013 on a training mission in central Switzerland.
Several minutes after take-off the aircraft hit rain and low clouds in the Alpnach region. The patrol chief decided to head back to Meiringen and started a 180-degree emergency manoeuvre to return to base.
The jet, however, flew into a cliff overlooking Lake Alpnach, one of the branches of Lake Lucerne. The two crew members were killed instantly. The pilot was experienced, with 1,500 to 2,000 flight hours under his belt. The passenger was a doctor with the air force's Aeromedical Institute.
“Other reasons such as a technical failure, or problems linked to the pilot’s health or the intervention of a third person can be excluded as causes of the accident,” the statement concluded.
The weather in the region had grown progressively worse over the course of the afternoon, with rain and wind gusts of up to 50 kilometres per hour recorded at high altitudes.
The first images of the crash can be seen on this video shown on Swiss TV last October.
Switzerland’s frontline air force currently consists of 32 F/A-18 Hornet and 54 F5 Tiger aircraft. The fleet of 34 F/A-18s was acquired in the mid-1990s. Crashes are rare. Another plane of its type crashed in the Swiss Alps in 1998, killing two people, including the pilot.
The air force also includes Pilatus trainer aircraft and more than 40 Eurocopter helicopters, as well as drones and special transport planes.
swissinfo.ch and agencies