Air Force Special Operations Command officials released the results of their investigation into the Feb. 18 U-28A aircraft accident near Ambouli International Airport, Djibouti that killed all four Airmen onboard.
Capt. Ryan P. Hall from the 319th Special Operations Squadron, Capt. Nicholas S. Whitlock, 1st Lt. Justin J.Wilkens from the 34th Special Operations Squadron and Senior Airman Julian S. Scholten from the 25th Intelligence Squadron died while on board the aircraft, which was flying in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. The aircraft valued at $14.5 million was destroyed.
The investigation found the crew had fallen victim to spatial disorientation. Spatial disorientation is the failure to correctly sense the position, motion or attitude of the aircraft or of oneself in relation to the surface of the earth. When spatial disorientation is unrecognized, a person’s cognitive awareness varies from reality in respect to: attitude, position, velocity, direction of movement or acceleration. This will prevent proper flight control inputs from being made because the need is unknown.
According to a Hurlburt press release, the accident investigation found the crew never lost control of the aircraft. There were no indications of mechanical malfunction. The evidence demonstrated the crew did not recognize the position of the aircraft. There were no indications the crew took any actions to control the descent rate and nose down attitude of the aircraft.
The AFSOC commander convened a Safety Investigation Board immediately after the mishap in order to quickly determine the cause of the crash and to recommend measures necessary to prevent a recurrence. SIBs do not produce a publicly releasable report, they determine safety of flight issues for Air Force internal use.
Under the authority delegated to him by the AFSOC commander, the AFSOC vice-commander convened an Accident Investigation Board to investigate the matter and designated Brig. Gen. Timothy Leahy, 23rd Air Force commander, AFSOC, Hurlburt Field, as the board president.
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