An AV-8B Harrier pilot was preparing to take off for a seven-hour sortie in support of operations in Iraq and Syria when he heard “a massive pop” and saw that his aircraft was on fire.
He decided not to eject since he still had control of the Harrier and instead brought the aircraft to a stop, “safed” his ejection seat and then opened the canopy to secure the low pressure fuel valve and batteries, an investigation found. It was when he tried to get out of the Harrier that he ran into some unforeseen problems.
“He was hit twice in the face with aqueous film forming foam and was forced to sit back down,” determined the investigation, which Marine Corps Times obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. “Someone lowered the steps for him and he was able to climb out under his own power and was quickly taken to medical aboard the ship.”
The British Royal Air Force pilot was serving with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit on an exchange program on March 8, 2016, when his Harrier caught fire aboard the amphibious assault ship Kearsarge, according to the investigation.
Neither the pilot nor anyone aboard the Kearsarge was injured, according to the investigation. Crash, fire and rescue personnel were able to begin dousing the fire within 35 seconds and explosive ordnance technicians jettisoned the Harrier’s bombs and flares.
The investigation failed to determine the cause of the explosion. Two other Harriers were damaged by debris from the aircraft that caught fire.
The pilot acted exemplary after his aircraft exploded “by exercising good judgment despite facing unique and unforeseen circumstances,” a command investigation found.
“I commend the actions of the pilot, flight deck crew, fire and rescue team, and the ordnance team in reacting to the incident,” one officer wrote in endorsing the investigation. “Their professional and diligent response was exemplary in all respects.”