The final moments before a fighter jet pilot ejected himself from an F-35, which was downed in South Carolina, have been assessed by an aviation expert, who said the airman “did not have much time to react” to the chaos around him.
Dr Alan Diehl, a former US government investigator and aviation safety expert, predicted the chaos that surrounded the unnamed pilot, who was forced to abandon his F-35 fighter jet, sparking a frantic search to find the downed machine.
The F-35 crashed on Sunday following a malfunction, leading the pilot – believed to be a 47-year-old man – to eject over Charleston – where he would land in a backyard close to the city’s international airport.
It remained at an altitude of around 1,000 feet – or 300 meters – and kept flying for more than 60 miles (100 kilometers) before it landed in a rural area near Indiantown.
Questions over exactly what the malfunction was, and the circumstances around its crash, have emerged since the wreckage was located earlier this week.
And for Dr Diehl, who became an engineer within the aviation industry after surviving a crash, there are a number of reasons why the flight could have become doomed.
He told Daily Express US that while he was only speculating, the remarks made by the pilot that he “just lost it in the weather” sounded “like a Mea culpa” – in other words, “my fault”.
Dr Diehl said: “Note, at only 1,000 feet above the ground, he did NOT have much time to react before potentially hitting the ground.
“Also, turning the autopilot on when close to the airport might suggest that he realized he was disorientated.”
The expert said that if the plane had been “in and out of clouds” there was the potential for the pilot to “initially try to hand-fly the bird visually while looking for the airport”.
However, he argued that “rapid transitions from flying on instruments to flying visually (looking outside around clouds, haze, rain, etc.) can be very disorienting, and turbulence and lightning can exacerbate the situation and increase mental workload”.
He added: “So he may have succumbed to this all-too-human failure which is a common cause of crashes.”
In the aftermath of the plane’s reappearance, more information about what the pilot experienced emerged, including an eight-minute dispatch call he made.
During the exchange, an unidentified official said during the call they had a “pilot with his parachute” – but nothing further about what happened to the plane.
They added that the “pilot lost sight of it on his way down due to the weather”.
With the pilot downed, a local spoke to the emergency services about his shock at finding him in their backyard.
He said on the call: “We got a pilot in the house, and I guess he landed in my backyard, and we’re trying to see if we could get an ambulance to the house, please.”
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