An F-16CM Fighting Falcon crashed in Afghanistan March 29 after at least one turbine blade failed in its engine, according to an accident report released Wednesday.
The Accident Investigation Board's report said that the fighter's turbine blade broke loose and then damaged the other blades in the engine. The engine was then unable to provide the thrust necessary to keep the fighter in the air, which caused an unrecoverable compressor stall and a crash.
The report did not specify where the F-16 crashed, aside from saying it was in "a rural area in the U.S. Central Command Area of Responsibility." But the Air Force previously said after the March 29 crash that an F-16 crashed during an evening takeoff from Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.
The report said that the accident happened on a two-ship alert scramble. Right after takeoff, about 20 feet above the runway, the pilot saw a "giant explosion with white sparks shooting out the front" of the fighter, heard loud grinding and two thumps, and felt "significant vibration," all at the same time.
The pilot immediately pulled the fighter into a climb. When he reached 880 feet above the ground, his climb rate and speed rapidly decreased, and he ejected, sustaining minor injuries. He is now back on full duty status, the report said.
The plane, which was still flying in full afterburner, crashed eight seconds later in a crop field less than a mile from the runway. The owners of the crop field were compensated for their losses. There were no other injuries or damage to other government or private property, the report said.
Staff Sgt. Dylan Crawford, a pararescueman and Air Force Times' Airman of the Year, helped recover that pilot.
The crash cost the U.S. government $29.07 million in all, the report said.
But while the turbine blade's failure was the cause of the crash, the report didn't find any evidence to suggest the maintenance crew was negligent or otherwise to blame for it. The report also did not fault the pilot.
The F-16 and its crew were assigned to the 421st Fighter Squadron of the 388th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base in Utah.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.