Crash pilot ‘failed to report instrument problems’ at RAF Lakenheath

Then Captain Taj Sareen,in 2012 when he was also the squadron's quality assurance safety officer, conducting pre-flight checks to ordnance loaded before flight operations
Picture: USMC/Cpl Vanessa Jimenez
Then Captain Taj Sareen,in 2012 when he was also the squadron's quality assurance safety officer, conducting pre-flight checks to ordnance loaded before flight operations Picture: USMC/Cpl Vanessa Jimenez

A US Marine Corps pilot who died in a crash did not report aircraft problems before take off from RAF Lakenheath because it would have delayed his colleagues, an investigation has found.

Major Taj Sareen died when his F/A-18 Super Hornet came down at Temple Farm, Redmere, bout six miles from RAF Lakenheath,on October 21, 2015

An F/A-18 Hornet  of the US Marine Corps VMFA-232 Red Devils
USAF photo by  Staff Sgt. Cherie Thurlby

An F/A-18 Hornet of the US Marine Corps VMFA-232 Red Devils USAF photo by Staff Sgt. Cherie Thurlby

An accident investigation report has now revealed there was evidence his navigation system was ‘not 100 per cent’.

The 34-year-old told colleagues about the issues but did not tell the maintenance team, the report said.

Report said a combination of ‘stress from wanting to get home’ and ‘stress of not wanting to be the reason for an additional delay’ led him to keep the issue from engineers.

Maj Sareen, from California, was returning home from a six-month tour fighting so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria when the accident happened.

The F/A-18 Hornet was with the Marine Attack Fighter Squadron 232 stationed in Miramar, California – known as the Red Devils.

At RAF Lakenheath Maj Sareen was asked whether he had any issues with his jet.

The report says he responded: “The inertial navigation system, but it is good.”

When the maintenance controller tried to find what was wrong, Maj Sareen replied: “Don’t worry about it, the jet is good.”

The report also found the weather on the day Maj Sareen died had a ‘major impact’ by forcing him to use his standby flight instruments.

“If the weather conditions had been clear,” the report’s author said, “I believe Maj Sareen would have been able to adequately deal with the system problems/failure modes of the INS (inertial navigation system) and would have been able to avoid impact into the ground.”

The report said: “The better decision would have been to debrief Maintenance Control about the problem and let them troubleshoot the aircraft.”

After the crash farmer Gary Sizer praised Maj Sareen for steering his jet away from buildings at Redmere,

Mr Sizer and his father were working in barns next to the field where the jet crashed, and said: “He’s like a guardian angel. His heroism saved mine and my dad’s lives but he sacrificed his own life. He must have left it until the last second to eject.”

He thought Maj Sareen must have seen him drive a forklift from one shed to another immediately before the crash.

A spokesman for Miramar marine base said at the time that Maj Sareen was deployed as part of Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force - Crisis Response - Central Command 15.2 and was returning with his squadron after a six-month deployment against so called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Maj Sareen was previously deployed with VMFA-232, one of the corps oldest squadrons nicknamed Red Devils, to Afghanistan in 2010 and was an instructor at Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 101. He left a wife and young daughter.