Swiss fighter jet pilot faces charges over 2015 crash

A Swiss F/A-18 fighter jet, Payerne, September 2019. Keystone / Peter Klaunzer

A Swiss air force pilot whose F/A-18 fighter jet crashed during a training exercise in the French Jura mountains in 2015 is to face charges of negligence.

This content was published on June 18, 2020 - 11:22

The accident happened on October 14, 2015 during a training exercise that also involved two Tiger aircraft belonging to the Swiss air force, neither of which were damaged.

An investigation published in 2017 found that the jet’s left engine had stalled, causing it to lose power and begin rolling to the left while rapidly losing altitude. The pilot, unable to stabilise the plane, activated his ejector seat moments later. He suffered minor injuries on landing.

On Thursday, the army announced that charges would be brought against the pilot. In his capacity as “mission commander”, he failed to respect the rules for minimum flight altitudes for combat and training exercises. Both altitudes were too low, according to the charge sheet.

The pilot is accused of non-compliance with basic security rules that apply in exceptional cases. He did not activate the emergency alert system until 24 seconds after the malfunction in the jet’s left engine had appeared.

The case will be brought before a military court; until then, the pilot is presumed innocent.

Air debates

The accident is one of several involving Swiss fighter jets in recent years. In August 2016, another F/A-18 crashed into the mountains in central Switzerland. Two F-5 jets from the Patrouille Suisse aerobatic display team collided in the Netherlands in June the same year. Another F/A-18 was written off after crashing near Lake Lucerne in 2013.

In September this year, Swiss voters will have their say in a referendum on whether the air force will be given some CHF6 billion ($6.1 billion) to buy a new fleet of fighter jets. The army says the current fleet of F/A-18s and Tigers is aging, and needs replacement before 2030 at the latest.

Parliament had approved plans to purchase a new fleet of Gripen fighter jets for CHF3.3 billion. But the plan was scrapped after being rejected by voters in 2013.

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