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MIDAIR COLLISION CAUSED MARCH CRASH OF 2 F-16 FIGHTER JETS

A midair collision caused the crash of two F-16 fighter jets during a March 22 training mission about 26 miles southwest of Wendover, Air Force investigators say.

A report issued by the chief investigator, Lt. Col. William D. Barber Jr., states that the right wingtip of one F-16 struck the other fighter immediately behind the cockpit during what was described as "a nearly head-on pass."The two pilots from the reserve 419th Tactical Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base ejected following the crash, escaping serious injury. Both fighter jets burst on impact.

Maj. Thomas B. Ward, 37, of Layton, and Capt. Ronald W. Zimmerman, 30, of Bountiful, declined to testify before the crash investigation team. The pilots, asserting their rights under Article 31 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, told investigators they preferred to obtain legal counsel before answering any questions.

The report did not place blame for the accident. It noted standard procedure for head-on intercepts required pilots to "clear" (turn) to the right unless that would result in crossing flight paths.

Ward attempted to turn right and Zimmerman attempted to turn left, the report said. Investigators could not determine if "clearing to the right would have resulted in crossing flight paths," because the two pilots did not testify.

Air-operations regulations also prohibit aircraft from coming within 500 feet of each other during air-to-air training.

No problems with weather, equipment, supervision or the training and qualifications of the pilots surfaced in the report.

Zimmerman suffered second-degree burns to his neck and first-degree flash burns to the face from what the report termed an "intense cockpit fire" prior to ejection. Ward received minor abrasions and contusions, and both men were treated at the Hill hospital and released the evening of the crashes.

Blood and urine samples taken at the hospital from all four pilots involved in the training mission did not show any evidence of drugs or alcohol.

Ward and Zimmerman were on opposite sides of a night intercept-training mission involving four aircraft. Pilots were flying in pairs, alternately taking on the roles of targets and interceptors.