Thursday, February 21, 2008
Two F-15C fighter jets went down over the Gulf of Mexico near the Florida Panhandle yesterday afternoon, just days after the Air Force cleared the fleet to fly amid concerns about the structural integrity of the aging airplanes.
Air Force officials said last night that it was too early to speculate about the cause of the crashes. They could not say whether the jets collided or whether they went down separately. Coast Guard crews rescued the pilots, who ejected. One pilot subsequently died. The other is expected to survive.
The jets were reported missing about 2 p.m. when they lost radio contact with the control tower. Both planes were based in Eglin Air Force Base near Pensacola, Fla.
Air Force officials grounded the fleet of A through D models of the F-15 last year after an F-15C ripped apart during a training flight in Missouri, and after investigators determined that the 30-year-old jet had structural weaknesses. Nine other F-15s were found to have similar problems and have been grounded indefinitely. The Air Combat Command cleared the last of the 429 grounded F-15s for flight last Friday.
-- Josh White