Air Force F-16 Collides with Civilian Cessna Near Charleston

An Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon jet collided with a civilian Cessna 150C at approximately 11 am EST on Tuesday, July 7, 2015, near Lewisfield Plantation in Moncks Corner, about 25 miles north of Charleston, South Carolina. The F-16 pilot, Major Aaron Johnson, part of the 55th Fighter Squadron with the Air Force’s 20th Fighter Wing at Shaw Air Force Base, was flying a solo practice mission when the mid-air collision occurred. Maj. Johnson was able to eject safely and was transported to a local hospital. The two Cessna occupantsMichael Johnson, 68, and his son Joseph Johnson, 30, who was piloting the plane—were en route to Myrtle Beach. Sadly, neither survived the crash.

Although the cause of the incident is still under investigation, Col. Stephen Jost of Shaw Air Force Base confirmed that the F-16 pilot was under “positive control” of air traffic controllers when the collision occurred.

In speaking with Charleston newspaper The Post & Courier, Motley Rice aviation attorney and former U.S. Air Force navigator Jim Brauchle stated that, “Even if you’re under radar control, the pilots still have the responsibility to see and avoid. Sometimes pilots can have a false sense of security when air traffic control tells them it has control, but they still have to be looking outside the aircraft.”

Brauchle added that the F-16’s flight recorder will provide important information regarding the moments just before the crash, including whether the jet was on autopilot or under the control of the pilot. Investigators will also determine if the signal coming off the Cessna—which was not flying under radar control—was strong enough to be spotted by air traffic control.

At the time of the crash, witnesses reported seeing a large fireball over Old Highway 52 near the Cooper River. Debris from the collision has been found more than seven miles from the crash site, including in a mobile home park, and has been reported in a wide area around Lewisfield Plantation.

The Coast Guard, Department of Natural Resources, Berkeley Country Fire Department and others were on the scene soon after the incident and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) officials are now leading the investigation. During a July 8, 2015, press conference, NTSB investigator Dennis Diaz stated that determining the cause of the crash may take up to a year.

Motley Rice aviation attorneys were recently successful in settling a case against air traffic control on behalf of the families of five passengers involved in a fatal mid-air collision over the Hudson River in 2009.* Learn more about Motley Rice’s aviation team and plane crash cases.

*prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome