Spatial Disorientation Led to Fatal F-16 Crash

An F-16C pilot lost visual contact with the lead aircraft in his formation and suffered from spatial disorientation during maneuvers, which led to the fatal crash of the fighter into the Gulf of Mexico on Nov. 6, 2014, according to a new Air Combat Command accident investigation board report, released Sept. 8. The pilot, Matthew LaCourse, performed a series of dynamic maneuvers during intercept training with another fighter that stimulated fluid in his inner ear canals, states a release summarizing the report. These fluids are crucial to human perception of direction, movement, and gravity—and the fluid stimulation led him to misperceive his angle of bank, pitch, and position, leading to spatial disorientation. The AIB also determined there was evidence to show the loss of visual contact with his flight lead contributed “substantially” to the crash. LaCourse was a civilian pilot assigned to the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron at Tyndall AFB, Fla., at the time of the crash. He was a 1978 graduate of the Air Force Academy who retired as a lieutenant colonel after more than 22 years of service, prior to assuming his civilian duties.