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F-16 Crashes in Mountains; 2 Die

Accident: Pilot, civilian photographer are killed as plane from Edwards AFB goes down on border of California, Nevada.

July 18, 2001|SCOTT GOLD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

An Air Force F-16 crashed Tuesday in remote mountains near the California-Nevada border, killing the pilot and a freelance photographer hired to document another plane's test flight, military officials said.

The plane went down about 7 a.m. after taking off from Edwards Air Force Base, where the pilot was stationed. Wreckage was found about 30 miles east of the China Lake Naval Air Warfare Center and south of Death Valley in northern San Bernardino County.

Maj. Aaron George, a 416th Flight Test Squadron pilot, and Judson Brohmer, a commercial photographer hired to take still photos and video of another F-16, were confirmed dead hours later, military officials said.

It was unclear whether the two had attempted to eject from the plane, base spokeswoman Sgt. Stefanie Doner said.

Air Force officials did not provide biographical information about the pilot or details about the test flight. The second plane was not damaged.

Security personnel and emergency workers from China Lake and Edwards were at the scene Tuesday, Doner said, and will launch an investigation into the cause of the crash. The remote area where the wreckage was found "is not going to make it easy," she said.

It was the third crash of an F-16 since March.

The plane, which cost $30.1 million, was an F-16B. F-16s are nimble fighters considered by military analysts to be low-cost, high-performance weapons for the United States and some of its allies. The plane can reach speeds of 1,500 mph and withstand nine "Gs"--nine times the force of gravity.

Brohmer, 38, who lived in Tehachapi, was only called to Tuesday morning's test flight when Edwards could not seat its own photographer on the flight, said Sam Grizzle, a spokesman for Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Georgia.

Edwards called Lockheed Martin. The company, which built the F-16 that crashed but was not directly involved in the test flight, recommended Brohmer.

"Judson just happened to be available," Grizzle said. "He just happened to get on the flight."

Brohmer, a former news producer with CBS and NBC in Los Angeles, became fascinated with military aircraft as he drove by Edwards, he recently wrote in an essay for Lockheed Martin's online magazine, Code One.

"Watching the jets streak overhead, I didn't take long to figure out who had a more exciting job than I," he wrote. "So I quit the news and started my career at Edwards."

Brohmer worked as an aerial photographer for Lockheed Martin from November 1997 until March, when he stepped down to freelance. In recent years, he worked with most military aircraft manufacturers, from Lockheed Martin to McDonnell Douglas, and photographed test flights of F-16s, C-17s and, most recently, F-22s.

"I absolutely love to fly," Brohmer wrote. "Nothing compares to the feeling of zooming along at forty or fifty thousand feet, skimming over wispy clouds, chasing the world's most advanced fighter."

On the Web site, Brohmer credits military pilots with getting him into position to take breathtaking shots of jets, sometimes while traveling 1,000 mph just 200 feet off the ground.

"Truth be known," he wrote, "the pilots are what make it happen."

Brohmer, described by Grizzle as an "excellent aerial photographer," is survived by a wife and three children.

"Many of us knew him and had worked with him before," Grizzle said. "We're all very saddened and distraught."

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