• The crash of FX54 related par its last pilot : Cdt Avi (Ret.) Theo Everaert 
  • Conclusion of the investigation - Pictures


A sunny Friday - 16 September 1980.


It is Friday, September 16, 1980 and the weather is particularly mild in these last days of summer.
Two pilots of the 350th squadron of the 1st All Weather Fighter Wing are preparing for a low-level training flight.
The mission is planned to start in our Ardennes and end with a simulated attack of the Florennes Air Base.
Cpn Theo Everaert, leader of this mission will fly the FX54 while his wingman, Lt René Vervoort will fly the FX57.

A technical problem on Cpn Everaert's F-104G, will force him to abandon his aircraft and eject over the French Ardennes.
He will be the last pilot belonging to the 1st All Weather Fighter Wing to eject from an F-104G.

Below is his account of this mission.



All this happened on a sunny Friday, the 16th September 1980 at 16:16.

The mission was a Pair Leader check of Lt René Vervoort and was briefed as follow : 
René had the lead for a formation T/O and had to proceed to a Low level Cap to the Ardennes at 1000 ft/gnd.

After three patterns in Low level Battle at 500 ft, he had to join-up and become my wingman for a Blue Strike mission at EBFS (Florennes), a mission supposed to test the reaction time and skills of the defence of the aerodrome called L.A.A. (LAA standing for Light Aircraft Artillery)

Everything went as planned until I took the lead and headed to Bouillon with the intention to surprise the LAA by coming from the south.

Just befor turning to Couvin I suddenly felt a shock similar to a bird strike and the engine started to rumble immediately.
Smoke filled the entire cockpit and fuel vapors started to sting my throat and my eyes.
At the moment, we were flying at 500 ft at a speed of 450 kts !

I pulled the aircraft immediately in a steep climb and ask René to take the lead saying that I've had a bird strike.
The speed of the FX54 brought me to 6000 ft were I set a gliding speed of 300 kts.
Selecting the Oxygen Regulator to 100% OXYGEN and opening the FRESH AIR SCOOP made my flight a little bit more comfortable.
Since the engine was vibrating roughly, I throttled back the engine to IDLE. My radar scoop went out and one by one all the emergency lights came on, first HYD 1 side and then HYD 2.

Still flying and gliding down, looking at René and estimating my rate of descent I was searching about the reason of that Audio Warning that was annoying me !
Finally, I noted the FIRE warning light in front of my nose ans asked René to check if he could confirm that my plane was in fire.
He replied that he was seeing white smoke coming out of my cockpit.

I didn't check the engine temperature or RPM, but as I needed to know if the engine was still producing some thrust, I selected full throttle and then full afterburner.
A fraction of a second later I was in IDLE again.
After two loud scaring explosion, I was happy the the plane was still in one piece !

Looking outside and noting that all the houses spread over the French Ardennes were becoming bigger and bigger, I estimated that it was time to leave the aircraft.
"René I'm bailing out" I called, and René saw me leaving the FX54.

I tried to follow the sequences and kept my eyes wide open. I got the impression that I was staying a long time in the seat, but the separation occured, the Survival Kit was released and I saw my dinghy inflating underneath and I finally landed on it, near a man at work in his vegetable garden.

René Vervoort on his side loses rather quickly Theo of sight after his ejection and takes from then on altitude in order not to hinder him in his descent. 
After having contacted Belga Radar he will remain for a while at the vertical of the crash site, but he will end up diverting to Florennes due to lack of fuel.
After refueling he will take off again later towards Beauvechain.

On the ground people told me that my F-104 crashed vertically in a meadow 6 km away, not far from the village called Authe.
Fortunately nobody was wounded by the impact and that was the most important.

The report of my wingman René Vervoort who stated in flight that he saw some white smoke venting from the cockpit will be a great help for the US crash investigators whom will quickly find the reason of the engine problem leading to the crash.
Two fuel valves located within the aircraft fuselage should have been stuck "closed" leading the fuel tank to rip open.
The fuel being released in the aircraft fuselage will be sucked by the J-79 engine compressor which will compress the air/fuel mixture to highy explosive fuel vapors.
A part of it will find a way out via the compressor Bleed Air and after passing through the Air Conditioning System will finally be forwarded to the cockpit.
The remaining and major part of the fuel/air mixture will be transferred to the J-79 combustion chambers where this explosive mixture will be ignited leading to the well-known result.

The engine of the FX54 made a hole with a depth of 10 meters and when pulled out and examined by the investigators, it will be obvious that the J-79 engine had been operated with too much fuel, her combustion chambers being find fused together.

                            Theo Everaert 
                            Cdt Avi (Ret.)

1997014 (222)

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