NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Navy is citing pilot error for a military training jet crash in Tennessee that killed the two aboard, saying it was being flown for thrills and too low.
Navy officials said in a report the T-45C Goshawk was flying below allowable altitudes last October when it plunged into a forest near Tellico Plains. The report was emailed Saturday to The Associated Press, which requested it under the Freedom of Information Act.
The crash killed 31-year-old instructor Lt. Patrick Ruth from Metairie, Louisiana, and 25-year-old student pilot Lt. J.G. Wallace Burch from Horn Lake, Mississippi. Both were stationed at Naval Air Station Meridian in Mississippi. The flight originated from McGee Tyson Airport in Knoxville, Tennessee.
The report cited a “culture” within the individual training unit and Naval air training at large that allowed pilots to fly “beyond the bounds” of approved Naval Air Training Command curriculum. It also said leadership failed to ensure training operations adhered to approved publications.
Ruth “was overly confident, nonchalant, and aggressive at low altitude training, with limited awareness of the performance capabilities” of the aircraft during the low-altitude awareness training flight, the report said. Ruth’s attitude “conditioned (Burch) to fly the aircraft in an aggressive manner, without correction” from Ruth.
The report said Ruth exceeded approved training curriculum, including aggressive ridgeline crossings and descending turns that went below the minimum altitude of 500 feet (150 meters).
Shortly before the crash, Ruth told Burch they would “deviate from the direct line” of the approved training route in order to follow terrain. Ruth started a descending turn to demonstrate terrain-following techniques, then instructed Burch to make a hard right turn.
But the plane was going too slow and too low relative to the rising terrain ahead, the report said. “In response to their maneuvers, the aircraft entered into a stall,” it added.
By the time the crew realized the situation, it was too late to safely eject, according to the report.
The Navy said it has since conducted an audit to ensure instructor pilots have completed training requirements.