QF-4S+ Crash at Pt Mugu - April 20, 2002


(Download a higher resolution picture by clicking on any picture below.) Go to the Home Page

McDonnell-Douglas QF-4S+ Phantom II, BuNo 155749 crashed at the Pt Mugu Airshow on April 20, 2002, killing its crew of two.

The Navy has released their report about the accident. "The cause of this tragic accident was the failure of the pilot to manage the energy state of the aircraft, and then to recognize a departure from controlled flight at low altitude, and apply the NATOPS recovery techiques."

Shortly after the accident, some people made statements to the press suggesting that the crash was the result of problems with the QF-4 maintenance program at Pt Mugu. The press unquestioningly published those irrelevent claims before a proper investiation of the accident could be performed. Maintenance was not an issue in this crash.

McDonnell-Douglas QF-4S+ Phantom II breaks from the formation A flight of two F-4 Phantoms and two Grumman F-14 Tomcats was making an afterburner break into the landing pattern after a formation pass.

Grumman F-14 breaks from the formation One Phantom and the two Tomcats broke formation in sequence. The second Phantom began to trail smoke or unburned fuel after it passed the crowd and broke into the turn.

Grumman F-14 breaks into the landing pattern I was concentrating on shooting the F-14s as they pulled gs in afterburner, generating plumes of vapor from the leading edges of the wings.

I turned to shoot pictures of the Phantom and saw it belch an unnatural bright orange flame for a moment. It wasn't a normal afterburner flame and something was clearly wrong.

McDonnell-Douglas QF-4S+ Phantom II, 155749 after engine failure 2-1/2 seconds after the initial explosion, the QF-4S+ Phantom II had rolled inverted.

McDonnell-Douglas QF-4S+ Phantom II, 155749 after engine failure It descended, still nearly inverted.

McDonnell-Douglas QF-4S+ Phantom II, 155749 after engine failure Navy Commander Michael Norman managed to get the Phantom upright again for a moment, but it immediately rolled to the right again.

Radar Intercept Officer Marine Captain Andrew Muhs ejects from McDonnell-Douglas QF-4S+ Phantom II, 155749 Radar Intercept Officer Marine Captain Andrew Muhs ejected just 200 feet above the ground.

McDonnell-Douglas QF-4S+ Phantom II, 155749 about to impact the ground Commander Norman's ejection was not triggered before the Phantom hit the ground, 5-1/2 seconds after the initial explosion.

McDonnell-Douglas QF-4S+ Phantom II, 155749 explodes after impacting the ground Captain Muhs' parachute had not opened when the seat carrying him disappeared into the expanding fireball.

McDonnell-Douglas QF-4S+ Phantom II, 155749 explodes after impacting the ground

McDonnell-Douglas QF-4S+ Phantom II, 155749 explodes after impacting the ground

McDonnell-Douglas QF-4S+ Phantom II, 155749 explodes after impacting the ground

McDonnell-Douglas QF-4S+ Phantom II, 155749 explodes after impacting the ground

McDonnell-Douglas QF-4S+ Phantom II, 155749 explodes after impacting the ground Composite image of the crash.

Afterward, nobody in our group could remember hearing anything when the plane hit.

The Ventura County Sheriff's Bell 212 leads a parade of emergency vehicles The Ventura Sheriff's helicopter took off and flew directly across to the crash site.

The Ventura County Sheriff's Bell 212 leads a parade of emergency vehicles The Ventura County Sheriff's Bell 212 leads a parade of emergency vehicles to the crash site.

Troops moved into position between the crowd and the accident A troop of soldiers marched across the front of the crowd line to take position for crowd control.

The rest of the day's performances and Sunday's show were cancelled.


A trust fund for Norman's children has been set up and contributions may be made to the Michael Todd Norman Memorial Fund through any Washington Mutual Bank.

Donations to a fund for Muhs will benefit military and Marine Corps charities and should be sent to the Andrew D. Muhs Memorial Fund, P.O. Box 4266, Port Hueneme, CA 93044-4266.


Go to home page of the Goleta Air and Space Museum.

Send a message to Brian.