Please keep in mind this report is preliminary and may contain errors. Further investigation is still underway, but this gives us an idea of how the scenario unfolded in the sky over Moncks Corner, South Carolina.
So far, we know there was no flight plan filed for the Cessna, which departed from the Berkeley County Airport (MKS) at approximately 1057L (local time).
The F-16, assigned to the 20th Fighter Wing at Shaw Air Force Base, departed at approximately 1020L and proceeded to Myrtle Beach, where the pilot performed instrument approaches before proceeding out of that airspace in the direction of Charleston International Airport (CHS).
At approximately 1052L, the F-16 pilot contacted air traffic control at Charleston and requested a practice instrument approach for Runway 15, using the TACAN (TACtical Air Navigation system) aboard his aircraft. Here is how the incident unfolded after he filed that request, taken from the NTSB report:
- The controller instructed the F-16 pilot to fly a heading of 260 degrees to intercept the final approach course.
- At 10:55, the controller instructed the F-16 pilot to descend from his altitude of 6,000 feet to 1,600 feet. The F-16 was approximately 34 nautical miles northeast of CHS.
- At 10:57:41, a radar target displaying a visual flight rules transponder code of 1200, and later correlated to be the accident Cessna, appeared in the vicinity of the departure end of runway 23 at MKS, at an indicated altitude of 200 feet.
- The Cessna continued its climb, and began tracking generally southeast over the next 3 minutes.
- For the duration of its flight, the pilot of the Cessna did not contact CHS approach control, nor was he required to do so.
- At 11:00:18, the controller advised the pilot of the F-16, “traffic 12 o’clock, 2 miles, opposite direction, 1,200 [feet altitude] indicated, type unknown.”
- The F-16 pilot responded and advised the controller that he was “looking” for the traffic.
- At 11:00:26, the controller advised the F-16 pilot, “turn left heading 180 if you don’t have that traffic in sight.” The pilot responded by asking, “confirm 2 miles?”
- Eight seconds later, the controller stated, “if you don’t have that traffic in sight turn left heading 180 immediately.”
- Over the next 18 seconds, the track of the F-16 began turning southerly.
- At 11:00:49, the radar target of the F-16 was located 1/2 nautical mile northeast of the Cessna, at an indicated altitude of 1,500 feet, and was on an approximate track of 215 degrees.
- At that time, the Cessna reported an indicated altitude of 1,400 feet, and was established on an approximate track of 110 degrees.
- At 11:00:52 the controller advised the F-16 pilot, “traffic passing below you 1,400 feet.” At 1100:54, the radar reported altitude of the F-16 remained at 1,500 feet and no valid altitude information was returned for the radar target associated with the Cessna.
- At that point the targets were laterally separated by about 1,000 feet.
- No further radar targets were received from the Cessna, and the next radar target for the F-16 was not received until 11:01:13.
- At 11:01:19, the F-16 pilot transmitted a distress call, and no subsequent transmissions were received.
- Air traffic control radar continued to track the F-16 as it proceeded on a roughly southerly track, and after descending to an indicated altitude of 300 feet, radar contact was lost at 11:03:17 in the vicinity of the F-16 crash site.
As we mentioned, this is all preliminary and is subject to change pending the introduction of new evidence. We will continue to keep you posted on any updates as they become available.
(Featured photo courtesy of FoxNews/AP)