The crash of a T-38C Talon jet trainer last year that claimed the life of one of its pilots was due to a “total hydraulic failure” in the engine, the Air Force said Wednesday.
Capt. Paul J. Barbour, 32, of Van Nuys, California, was killed. A fellow instructor pilot, Capt. Joshua Hammervold, survived the crash with injuries.
The plane, which went down Nov. 20 in a field between two subdivisions about 14 miles northwest of Laughlin, not far from Lake Amistad outside Del Rio, was flying a routine training mission when things went awry.
Hammervold ejected while Barbour stayed with the plane, prompting speculation that he was trying to avoid hitting any homes in the area.
“I don’t know what the pilot was thinking,” Val Verde County Sheriff Joe Frank Martinez said at the time. “But it could have been a lot worse had it gone into either one of these two subdivisions,”
The report states the ejection system also should have propelled Barbour from the cockpit, but Barbour failed to arm his ejection seat during a preflight checklist and was trapped in the aircraft, said Marilyn Holliday, spokeswoman for the San Antonio-based Air Education and Training Command.
At the time, the commander of the 47th Flying Training Wing, Col. Charlie Velino, described crashes like it “tragic events,” but the Air Force has not said anything further pending the release of the report.
Laughlin is one of four AETC ungraduate pilot training bases where novices learn to fly. Flight operations were suspended but resumed the following week at the base, home to 3,000 airmen and civilians.
Hammervold, an instructor pilot with the 87th Flying Training Squadron, ejected. Barbour, an instructor pilot who also served as aircrew flight equipment flight commander with the 47th Operations Support Squadron at Laughlin, stayed with the plane. He is survived by his spouse, mother, father and sister.
Skies were clear and the wind calm. The sheriff said a hunter spotted a single parachute, but added that he couldn’t say what accounts were given by witnesses who talked with Air Force investigators.
AETC said the fatal crash was the first of its kind involving one of its planes since May 1, 2008, when pilots ejected from a T-38 flying out of Sheppard AFB in Wichita Falls before it crashed.