Navy Blames Pilot Judgment for Shooting Down Air Force JetNORMAN BLACK , Associated Press
Sep. 15, 1988 1:13 AM ET
WASHINGTON (AP) _ One year after a Navy F-14 Tomcat shot down an Air Force reconnaissance jet, the Navy released an investigative report that blames the accident on a ''basic error in judgment'' and ''an illogical act'' by the young fighter pilot.
The report, recently declassified under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act, was obtained Wednesday. It tracks the findings of a previously released Air Force inquiry into the Sept. 22, 1987, loss of an RF- 4C reconnaissance jet over the Mediterranean Sea.
The two Air Force crewmen managed to eject and parachute to safety, but their twin-engine jet blew up and was lost at sea. It was shot out of the sky by an F-14 assigned to the carrier Saratoga.
Like his Air Force counterpart, the Navy investigating officer - Capt. J.W. Lovell - concluded the Navy and Air Force aviators had been engaged in a routine exercise right up to the second the F-14's pilot armed and fired a live Sidewinder missile.
The pilot, Lt. j.g. Timothy W. Dorsey, was 25 at the time and a rookie fighter pilot with just 245 hours of flight time in the F-14.
Lovell found that even though Dorsey earlier that day had concluded the RF- 4C was a ''friendly'' plane and knew he was on an exercise, he reacted to a radio command from his carrier authorizing a simulated attack by doing the real thing.
''The September 22, 1987, destruction of USAF RF-4C ... was not the result of an accident, but the consequence of a deliberate act,'' the investigator wrote. ''His (Dorsey's) subsequent reaction (to the radio command) demonstrated an absolute disregard of the known facts and circumstances.
''He failed to utilize the decision-making process taught in replacement training and reacted in a purely mechanical manner. The performance of Lieutenant Timothy W. Dorsey on September 22, 1987, raises substantial doubt as to his capacity for good, sound judgment.''
The investigator's findings were accepted by Rear Adm. Jeremy Boorda, who ordered the inquiry.
''The investigating officer and endorsers of this investigation are faced with attempting to precisely determine the reason for what amounts to an illogical act,'' Boorda, who was then the commander of Cruiser-Destroyer Group Eight, said in a statement accompanying the report.
''What remains is an act by a pilot who for a moment left the exercise world he was a part of, and reacted in a rote manner to what he perceived as an order to actually destroy an aircraft that moments before he believed to be a friendly.''
Vice Adm. Kendall E. Moranville, until last month the head of the U.S. 6th Fleet, agreed: ''We necessarily rely on the self-discipline and judgment of pilots to prevent such incidents; we have no other choice. Nothing, in my opinion, can mitigate Lieutenant Dorsey's basic error in judgment.''
Dorsey was transferred to a job ashore after the incident and disciplined with an order that will prevent him from ever flying a Navy plane again.
The investigative report and written ''endorsements'' up the chain of command also disclose that in the wake of the accident, the Navy ordered F-14 pilots to verbally advise their radar intercept officers whenever they have armed the plane's weapons.
The radar intercept officer flying with Dorsey didn't know the pilot had actually armed his missiles and was no longer just pretending to shoot.
The report further shows that new steps were taken in the wake of the affair to ensure that Navy fighters wouldn't be launched off carriers for war games with Air Force jets carrying live weapons.
The Navy already had a directive in place to that effect, and Moranville faulted the top officers of the Saratoga ''for the failure to comply with the clear terms of the exercise operations order.''