QF-4S+ Crash at Pt Mugu - April 20, 2002


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McDonnell-Douglas QF-4S+ Phantom II, BuNo 155749 crashed at the Pt Mugu Airshow on April 20, 2002. Navy Commander Michael Storm Norman and Marine Capt. Andrew Mutt Muhs lost their lives in the crash.

These photographs were the primary evidence used by the Judge Advocate General (JAG) investigation to determine the cause of the crash. They were referred to as "the best sources of information we have on what the control surface position was prior to impact".

The JAG investigation report stated: "The cause of this tragic accident was the failure of the pilot to manage the energy state of the aircraft, and then to recognize a departure from controlled flight at low altitude, and apply the NATOPS recovery techiques."

Shortly after the accident, some people made statements to the press suggesting that the crash was the result of problems with the QF-4 maintenance program at Pt Mugu. The press unquestioningly published those irrelevent claims before a proper investiation of the accident could be performed. Maintenance was not an issue in this crash.

McDonnell-Douglas QF-4S+ Phantom II breaks from the formation A flight of two F-4 Phantoms and two Grumman F-14 Tomcats was making an afterburner break into the landing pattern after a formation pass.

Grumman F-14 breaks from the formation One Phantom and the two Tomcats broke formation in sequence. The second Phantom began to trail unburned fuel after it passed the crowd and broke into the turn. Commander Norman had set the throttle in the afterburner position, but the left afterburner failed to ignite.

Grumman F-14 breaks into the landing pattern I was concentrating on shooting the F-14s as they pulled gs in afterburner, generating plumes of vapor from the leading edges of the wings.

I turned to shoot pictures of the Phantom and saw it belch an unnatural bright orange flame for a moment. It wasn't a normal afterburner flame and something was clearly wrong.

As Commander Norman broke into the landing pattern, he pulled very hard on the stick to make a sharp turn, causing the airplane to slow down too much. The airplane was still flying OK, but then Norman made a second very sharp turn to the downwind leg of the pattern. The airspeed of the QF-4S+ dropped below the stall speed of the wing. Disturbed air flowed into the engine inlet, causing a stall of the engine compressor as well. That produced the puffs of flame that were seen in the video of the accident.

McDonnell-Douglas QF-4S+ Phantom II, 155749 after stalling 2-1/2 seconds after the engine compressor stall, the QF-4S+ Phantom II had rolled inverted.

McDonnell-Douglas QF-4S+ Phantom II, 155749 after stalling It descended, still nearly inverted.

McDonnell-Douglas QF-4S+ Phantom II, 155749 after stalling The Phantom rolled nearly upright again for a moment, but it immediately rolled to the right again and pitched nose down.

Radar Intercept Officer Marine Captain Andrew Muhs ejects from 
McDonnell-Douglas QF-4S+ Phantom II, 155749 Radar Intercept Officer Captain Muhs ejected just 200 feet above the ground.

McDonnell-Douglas QF-4S+ Phantom II, 155749 about to impact the ground The Phantom hit the ground, 5-1/2 seconds after the compressor stall. Commander Norman's ejection was triggered just after this picture was taken, too late to save him.

McDonnell-Douglas QF-4S+ Phantom II, 155749 explodes after impacting the ground Captain Muhs' parachute had not opened when he disappeared into the expanding fireball.

McDonnell-Douglas QF-4S+ Phantom II, 155749 explodes after impacting the ground

McDonnell-Douglas QF-4S+ Phantom II, 155749 explodes after impacting the ground

McDonnell-Douglas QF-4S+ Phantom II, 155749 explodes after impacting the ground

McDonnell-Douglas QF-4S+ Phantom II, 155749 explodes after impacting the ground

McDonnell-Douglas QF-4S+ Phantom II, 155749 explodes after impacting the ground Composite image of the crash.

The Ventura County Sheriff's Bell 205, N205VC leads a parade of emergency vehicles Ventura County Sheriff's Bell 205, N205VC took off and flew directly across to the crash site.

The Ventura County Sheriff's Bell 205 leads a parade of emergency vehicles The Ventura County Sheriff's Bell 205 leads a fleet of emergency vehicles to the crash site.

Troops moved into position between the crowd and the accident A troop of soldiers marched across the front of the crowd line to take position for crowd control.

The rest of the day's performances and Sunday's show were cancelled.


FAA Safety Publication These photographs have been used to illustrate an FAA Safety Publication.


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