Home » Aviation » Report: Super Hornet Was Flying on One Engine Before Fatal Key West Crash

Report: Super Hornet Was Flying on One Engine Before Fatal Key West Crash

Lt. Cmdr. James Brice Johnson, Lt. Caleb Nathaniel King. US Navy Photos

The post has been corrected to reflect the current Department of the Navy definition of a Class ‘A’ Mishap. An aircraft incident that results in a death or damage of $2 million or more. USNI News used an older definition that stated the damage threshold for a Class A mishap was $1 million of damage or more.

An F/A-18F Super Hornet was flying on only one engine before a crash that killed two naval aviators on approach to Naval Air Station Key West, Fla., according to a summary of the accident from the Navy Safety Center.

“F/A-18F while flying single engine, crashed on short final. 2 fatalities,” read a Navy Safety Center summary of the incident that killed Lt. Cmdr. James Brice Johnson and Lt. Caleb Nathaniel King on March 14.

The Virginian Pilot first reported the Safety Center finding on Wednesday.

Witnesses to the crash reported seeing a fireball consume the Super Hornet as it was on approach to the NAS Key West Boca Chica airfield. The aircraft crashed in shallow water just short of the airfield. The Navy removed the aircraft last week following an examination by a service mishap investigation board.

A spokesman for Naval Air Force Atlantic (AIRLANT) told USNI News on Thursday that the command won’t see any results until the investigation has concluded. The squadron involved in the crash, the “Black Lions” of Strike Fighter Attack Squadron (VFA) 213 based out of Naval Air Station Oceana, Va., fall under AIRLANT command.

A spokeswoman for the Navy Safety Center did not immediately respond to a message left by USNI News.

The single line was included in a summary of five of Class A aviation mishaps – aviation accidents that result in more than $2 million in damages or loss of life – that the Navy has suffered in the last six months. The list included a November C-2A Greyhound crash that killed three in the Pacific and an October T-45C Goshawk trainer crash in Tennessee that killed both the pilot and instructor.

  • Sally Jackson

    So sad. So sorry. RIP

  • Duane

    Critics of single engine fighter aircraft like to say that two engines are safer than one, should an engine fail in flight. The problem with that meme is that 1) engines very rarely fail in flight with modern turbine engines, with the vast majority of air crashes being caused by pilot error, and 2) when engines are mounted side by side within the fuselage, if one engine catches fire or explosively disintegrates, it is quite likely to take out the other engine too. From the information released here, it suggests that it’s possible if not likely that that is what happened in this accident.

    • Rocco

      It’s quite possible but you should go on record to say that!! Could of been anything like fuel coming in contact with hot engine (S), !! Caused the explosion….We don’t know until an investigation is done on the jet.

      • Duane

        Well, we can only go by what info has been released. Since the aircraft went in very shallow water and has been recovered, unlike many naval aircraft losses, the accident investigators ought to be able to figure out what happened.

        • Rocco

          Yes but you already made that assumption!

          • Duane

            We’ll never see a detailed forensic report on a naval warbird … the Navy will be very careful and stingy about what it says concerning a critical piece of equipment.

          • Rocco

            Too early to tell!! If it’s a poor maintenance issue they will cover up. But if it’s inherit of design it could ground the block #’s

    • incredulous1

      I agree with most of the above, except that it said one of the engines had already been shut down. Which puzzles me even further. At this point I am pointing a finger to a fuel S/O valve malfunctioning when they shut down the first engine and fuel coming into contact with the hot section of the running engine since engines cool off rapidly after shutdown in the air. Could very well be yet another case of not enough spares due to the damned BCA.

      • Duane

        The engine being “shut down” as described says very little. The investigators likely already know what happened and how. Given that this aircraft is a key warbird asset whose detailed design and performance data are national security secrets, we will never see a detailed forensic report such as are routinely generated for civil air accident investigations.

      • Rocco

        Yes as I said to Duane

  • NavySubNuke

    I would just like to pause a minute and respect the wording of the 04 Dec 2017 incident: “FA-18A right leading edge flap departed aircraft in flight and hit the vertical stabilizer”
    What a remarkable turn of phrase – you can almost hear the quarterdeck ringing the bell and announcing ding ding – ding ding “right leading edge flat, departing” ding ding – ding ding

    • Rocco

      You mean edge slat!! I don’t know how to take what you put here?

      • NavySubNuke

        Take it up with whoever wrote the short narratives above – they wrote edge flap so I did too.

        • Rocco

          Yeah OK so….. The narratives were 5 separate incidents just being pointed out!! Your sarcasm is dooly noted!!

      • El Kabong


        Hornets have LE FLAPS, not slats.

  • George Hollingsworth

    Possibly they ran one engine dry and then the other one on short final. No sign of fire damage on a photo of the aircraft upside down in the very shallow water. Maybe a tank did not feed properly. The observed fire might have been the ejection seats firing off.