HONOLULU – A fighter jet among a troubled fleet of F-15s that recently returned to the skies plunged into the ocean Friday, but the pilot ejected in time and was rescued shortly afterward.
A Coast Guard helicopter plucked the Hawaii National Guard pilot from the ocean. He was taken to a hospital and was listed in good condition.
The pilot, whose identity was not released, had extensive flight experience, said Maj. Gen. Robert G.F. Lee, the Hawaii National Guard commander.
"Our first concern was whether the pilot was OK," Lee told KHON-TV. "I got the chance to visit with him in the hospital. He's terrific."
The pilot said he could not control the plane and started to lose altitude before the crash, according to Lee. That's when he made the decision to eject and parachuted to the water 60 miles south of Honolulu.
The cause of the crash was being investigated. The plane had experienced no problems during a routine training exercise earlier in the day, Lee said.
The crash comes just a few weeks after the Hawaii Air National Guard, which uses the fighter jets to patrol island airspace, resumed flying the jet. The Guard returned 13 of its 20 planes to the air on Jan. 9. The remaining seven were still grounded and were undergoing inspections by engineers.
The Hawaii National Guard's F-15 jets, built between 1974 and 1978, were acquired in 1987 and had never before experienced a crash, Lee said.
The fleet's grounding came after a model broke in two during a training flight over Missouri, injuring the pilot. An investigation concluded that a defective aluminum beam in the frame cracked.
Another probe found that more than 150 of the military's F-15s also had the flawed beams.