On August 3, 2000, in the first week of the 2000 Green Flag Exercises, a U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagle crashed at approximately 10:45 a.m. PDST in the desert about 13 miles north of Rachel. The pilot, the mission commander of an eight-ship formation, ejected safely and was not injured. The planes serial number was 86-0173, of the 48th FW stationed at RAF Lakenheath, England.
I was one of the first from Rachel to get to the scene. When I got there the pilot had already been airlifted back to Nellis, and two CH-47 Chinook transport helicopters were securing the area. The wingman of the crashed F-15 circled overhead, and on my scanner I could hear him talk to Nellis Control.
The subsequent crash investigation took only a little over a week. During that time the Air Force personnel stayed at the Little A'Le'Inn in Rachel. They did not talk much about their investigation, but I got the idea that they were looking into the possibility of pilot error. Apparently the plane entered a flat spin in 8000 ft and the pilot ejected after he was unable to regain control of the plane. Later the official accident report (see link) confirmed pilot error, blaming the accident on "overly aggressive maneuvering" and "a probable right-wing heavy fuel imbalance" that the pilot failed to correct.
During the investigation security at the crash site was very tight. Even on the nearest road, about a half-mile from the crash site on public land, security would not allow us to take any photos.
After the wreckage had been trucked out on two flatbed trucks and in various boxes and containers we inspected the site. Besides the extent of destruction of natural desert ground by the heavy cleanup equipment the most interesting fact is the absence of any scrape marks, and the small size of the impact site. It suggests that the plane fell straight down, like a rock. The site has been picked up quite good and only tiny pieces are left, but the impact point was clearly visible, and the strong odor of jet fuel was still in the air.
The tail number of the plane is AF 86-173, it was an F-15C from the 493rd FS, 48th FW at RAF Lakenheath. The plane was one of 12 sent to Nellis AFB to participate in the Green Flag exercises. It belonged to the most decorated Eagle squadron, currently holding the trophy for the best and most skilled air superiority squadron in the entire USAF for a second year running.
The burning wreckage, and a CH-47 Chinook transport helicopter, that happened to be doing maneuvers nearby. The pilot of the crashed F-15 Eagle, who ejected and walked away without a scratch, had already been transported out by a Black Hawk helicopter. The dark object on the ground, to the right of the group of people, is the ejection seat. As you can tell it came down very close to the wreck, as well as the canopy. This, and the absence of a large debris field and scrape marks, indicates that the plane pretty much came straight down and landed flat on its belly. Photo courtesy of my friend Bob from Rachel.
A closer look at the wreckage. You can see flames through the smoke, from the burning fuel tanks in the wings. The twin tail section is sitting upright, and it looks like the plane came down in almost horizontal orientation, with the nose slightly down. While we were watching the burning wreck some flares inside popped and shot out like fireworks.
The wingman of the crashed F-15 was ordered by Nellis Control to circle over the crash site to secure the area. After some initial confusion all other players were ordered to RTB to Nellis. This is what the pile of smoking metal above looked like only minutes ago...
The crash site a few days later. The wreckage is on the right, next to a mobile light unit. In the center is the crash investigation camp, with two large tents and lots of trucks and other support vehicles. The truck on the left is coming out on a newly bulldozed road to chase us away. This shot was taken from the nearest dirt road about a half mile from the crash site on public land, but security felt that was still too close for comfort...
The tail section is trucked out on a flatbed truck, followed by another truck with smaller pieces of debris. This was taken on Friday morning at the intersection of Hwy 375 and Gunderson Road, looking northwest towards Queen City Summit. The convoy turned south, passed Rachel and probably headed towards Nellis.
In this shot the tail section and the tail number AF 86-173 is clearly visible, although most of the wreckage is covered. The truck driver was not too happy about the photos.
Special thanks to my friend Rebob for dragging me out of bed to take these photos. If it wasn't for his persistent pounding on my door, and subsequent driving like a bat out of hell up the highway, you would have never seen these shots...