A malfunction caused a Thunderbird pilot to crash following a flyover for the Air Force Academy's graduation ceremony in June, according to an investigation report released Wednesday.
The report by the Air Force Aircraft Accident Investigation Board said a throttle trigger malfunction and inadvertent throttle rotation resulted in the F-16CM losing thrust and crashing near Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, June 2.
Maj. Alex Turner, the pilot, was able to safely eject after navigating the jet to a grass field, but the $29 million F-16 was destroyed. Turner is assigned to the 57th Wing at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.
As he prepared to land following the six-ship formation flyover, Turner "inadvertently rotated the throttle," which placed it into an engine cut-off position, the report said. Such a rotation normally cannot occur unless the throttle trigger is pressed, but this trigger was stuck in the pressed position.
The investigation found debris in the throttle trigger, along with wear on the trigger assembly, according to the report. Analysis by the Air Force Research Laboratory/Materials Integrity Branch found the trigger remained "stuck" after being pressed.
The jet lost thrust, and although Turner attempted to restart the engine, it was impossible due to the aircraft's low altitude. According to the investigation report, the F-16 had approximately 900 pounds of fuel remaining at time of impact.
The Thunderbirds had performed a flyover following President Barack Obama's commencement speech at the academy in Colorado Springs. The elite Air Force demonstration team was grounded for about a week following the incident.
Maj. A.J. Schrag, a spokesman with Air Combat Command, said both Turner and the aircraft maintainers returned to work without receiving disciplinary actions.
Disciplinary actions against airmen are not normally discussed if they don't make it to public proceedings, Schrag said, however the Thunderbirds present a unique situation because of their public profile.
Turner sustained a minor injury after ejecting, and there was no known damage to civilian property.
Charlsy Panzino covers the Guard and Reserve, training, technology, operations and features for Army Times and Air Force Times. Email her at email@example.com.