Local News

Air Force finds human error in crash that killed two N.C.-based pilots

Posted December 1, 2009

— An Air Force report found that human error caused the crash that killed two officers from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

On Tuesday, the Air Force released the results of its investigation into the crash of an F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jet during practice July 18 in Afghanistan.

Capt. Thomas J. Gramith, 27, of Eagan, Minn., and Capt. Mark R. McDowell, 26, of Colorado Springs, Colo., died in the crash. They had been flying for several hours, providing air support to ground troops in the Ghazni Province when their plane went down around 3:15 a.m. in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Both men were assigned to the 336th Fighter Squadron, which deployed in April and returned in September.

The Air Combat Command Accident Investigation Board found that the lead weapons system officer assessed the altitude of a target at 4,800 feet when it was actually at 10,200 feet. Neither of the pilots recognized the mistake. Both were killed on impact, the report said.

McDowell, a native of Charlotte, was survived by his father in Adamsville, mother in Clemson, S.C., and grandparents in Sanford.

His wife is also in the Air Force. They would have celebrated their second wedding anniversary on Thanksgiving.

Rev. Gilbert McDowell, a pastor in Sanford, told WRAL News after the crash that he was not looking to place blame.

“It really doesn’t matter now as far as we’re concerned. We lost a grandson,” he said. “He was too young to die, but a lot of those men are too young to die."


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  • Worland Dec 1, 2009

    They thought the hard deck was 5000 feet lower than it actually was... essentially flying right into the ground thinking they were flying at 5000 feet.

    Occasionally, aircrew will confuse sea level with ground level. Your altimeter will read in feet above sea level, not feet above ground level. If you forget the ground is 5000 feet above sea level, and your altimeter is reading 5000 feet, you're going to crash... all the time thinking you're flying at 5000 feet.

  • info39 Dec 1, 2009

    With - I can only surmise that they were on an attack run-in and thinking that the top if the target was at 4800 and when they made their attack they did not have enough room to pull up and clear the mountain range and thusly flew the plane into the side of the mountain.

  • deputydog1296 Dec 1, 2009

    My God be with the families and the 336 Squadron. Thanks for all you do. GOD speed.

  • withnailharrison Dec 1, 2009

    Could someone please elaborate the bit about the cause of the crash being related to mistaken target altitude? I don't know enough about air warfare to follow this one.

  • djcgriffin Dec 1, 2009

    praying for all the families and loved ones :(