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Air Force releases cause of fatal F-16 crash

ESCANABA — The pilot of a fighter plane that crashed in a remote part of northern Delta County in December 2020 was disoriented and distracted before the plane crashed, according to a report by safety inspectors.

Capt. Durwood “Hawk” Jones, 37, of Albuquerque, N.M., a fighter pilot with the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s 176th Fighter Squadron, was piloting a F-16C Fighting Falcon on a training mission when it crashed in the Hiawatha National Forest the evening of Dec. 8, 2020.

Investigators said Jones lost his bearings and could not reorient himself after trying to right the plane when it lost GPS navigational data. Other factors that contributed to the crash were low light at night, weather conditions and the jet’s position and speed. The plane was destroyed and its pilot killed when it crashed into the ground.

Jones was on a training flight from Truax Field, Wisconsin, with another aircraft. Authorities said he was a qualified F-16 pilot who had logged more than 1,300 hours flying rated aircraft and more than 1,000 hours in the F-16C — including more than 240 in combat and over 300 at night.

“At the time of impact, the [F-16C] was approximately 58 degrees nose low, with over 20 degrees of right bank, heading 205 degrees, and traveling over 600 knots,” the report said. “Analysis revealed the … nose and right wing tip both struck the ground, leaving recognizable cratering” and shearing off nearby trees.

Jones did not try to eject from the jet, the report said.

During the press conference in the days following the crash, Bart Van Roo, 115th Fighter Wing Commander, thanked a number of agencies for their assistance with processing the crash site and searching for Jones. He specifically thanked the Delta County Sheriff’s Office and the Michigan State Police as well as the Michigan National Guard and National Guard forces from Minnesota, Indiana, and Iowa.

“We’re very thankful that our civilian partners, in particular the Delta County Sheriff and the Michigan State Police helped us. It is in a remote area of the Hiawatha National Forest, however, they did assist us in getting there as quickly as we thought possible,” said Van Roo at the event.

According to Delta County Sheriff Ed Oswald, search and rescue members were at the crash site the night of the incident, and deputies attempted to evacuate a local camp, which was unoccupied. The majority of the work done by both the sheriff’s office and the Michigan State Police and the Sheriff’s Office was containing the area. Once the military had identified the size of the containment area needed, the State Police established the zone and both departments assisted in keeping civilians out of the area.

Deputies also assisted at the scene by increasing cell phone service to the area, which is a known dead-zone, by bringing in a booster antenna donated by the local Verizon store.

Other Fighting Falcons, helicopters, a reconnaissance plane, and the Coast Guard also responded to the crash responded to the crash.

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