WASHINGTON (AP) – The military is confronting a series of exasperating crashes blamed on pilot recklessness, including the fatal accident in which a seasoned Army pilot confessed last week that he was trying to show off performing a dangerous maneuver at low altitude.

In a second case, Air Force investigators concluded two instructor pilots were likely hung over from a night of heavy drinking with friends when their trainer jet crashed after takeoff one morning last year in Savannah, Ga. Both men died.

An Air Force report said the plane climbed steeply after takeoff, then rolled nearly upside down as it stalled. Investigators said one pilot, Capt. Judson Brinson, violated rules by consuming as many as nine drinks the night before; the other pilot, Capt. Thomas Lee Moore, consumed as many as 10 drinks that night. Toxicology tests showed neither pilot was legally drunk at the time of the crash.

Investigators said a Marine Reserve squadron commander in a Hornet fighter jet at Quantico, Va., flew a low-altitude air show for family and spectators before his brakes failed performing touch-and-go landings on a short runway.

The pilot, Lt. Col. William D. Reavis, ejected and was seriously injured. The plane had more than $1 million in damage as it rolled through a small fence and into a marsh.

Reavis’ unit, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 321, was being deactivated days later, and the jet he was flying was being retired to become a display at Andrews Air Force Base. Reavis, still recovering from injuries, said he was “caught between a rock and a hard place” and could not discuss last September’s accident.

It came months after a Naval Reserve pilot, Cmdr. Kevin Thomas Hagenstad of Marietta, Ga., survived a crash in rural Tennessee farm field last year. Investigators said Hagenstad was flying so low his $40 million fighter jet struck power lines.

Hagenstad, who broke his ankle, said he was “not at liberty to discuss this.”

The Navy’s top safety commander, Rear Admiral Dick Brooks, described behavior by both Hagenstad and Reavis as “clearly unacceptable.” Brooks also cited “blatant” rules violations by Hagenstad.

Government records show Hagenstad also flew commercial passenger jets as a civilian pilot for JetBlue Airways. Navy records indicate Hagenstad’s military status is inactive.

The sheriff for Rhea County, where Hagenstad’s fighter crashed, said Navy jets routinely fly through an air corridor reserved for military pilots at high speeds and low altitude – what pilots call flat-hatting. “You can read the numbers on them most of the time,” Sheriff Mike Neal said.

A JetBlue spokesman, Todd Burke, declined to confirm Hagenstad ever worked for the airline, citing pilot privacy. Burke said all of JetBlue’s pilots comply with the rules of the Federal Aviation Administration, which does not investigate military accidents except under rare circumstances.

An FAA spokeswoman, Laura Brown, said the Defense Department is not required to notify civilian aviation authorities about any crash involving military pilots, even those accused of reckless flying who also carry civilian licenses. “We’re sort of in different worlds,” Brown said.

Navy lawyers blocked The Associated Press’ requests for results of its legal inquiry into circumstances of the Tennessee crash, citing “anticipation of litigation.” The Navy separately agreed to disclose its formal accident report but said it would take at least 18 months because of paperwork backlogs.

In an older case, the Army convicted two Black Hawk pilots accused of taking their wives on an unauthorized flight in the Bahamas in 1998 that ended tragically. Both wives died in a crash when the pilots turned too sharply while flying low.

The Army’s report said one pilot, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Daniel Riddell, was known informally among soldiers as “Air Show Dan” with a reputation for “yanks and banks.” It also said Riddell had been admonished for unsafe flying immediately before the crash, and said he called one Bahamian official “a sissy” after complaints about his flying style.


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