MERTZON, TX — A Czechoslovakian-made fighter jet crashed on a ranch just northwest of Mertzon. According to a witness who saw it happen as well as the air traffic control flight track, the jet was flying unusual raster patterns around San Angelo and had just departed the San Angelo airspace headed towards Midland, climbing to 10,000 feet
At 4:08 p.m. Tuesday, the flight path ends over the Rocker B Ranch north of Barnhart when the L-39 Albatross recorded a high rate of descent of over 2,100 feet per minute.
According to witnesses, the jet had cameras mounted at several places. Those cameras were fetched and taken away from San Angelo quickly after the crash, we were told.
People with knowledge of the crash landing are tight-lipped. The Irion County Sheriff would not talk to us. Reports from the field are that workers who arrived at the crash site were concerned about the “Russian” markings and words on the plane.
Usually, when an incident like this happens, the National Transportation Safety Board dispatches a team of crash investigators. Concurrently with the start of the investigation, usually within hours, the NTSB Newsroom on Twitter announces the crash. This incident happened over 24 hours ago and there has been no official statement from any government agency.
A call to the NTSB Response Operations Center transferred to NTSB Media Relations in Washington, DC. The NTSB confirmed that there was no investigation initiated into the incident.
Between Irion County Sheriff W.A. Estes not talking to the news media, an absence of an NTSB investigation, and no one wanting to go on the record about the crash, our eyebrows are raised. The NTSB said that depending upon the circumstances of the incident, the local FAA office may conduct the investigation. It appears from the flight track that the jet was operating under Visual Flight Rules, or VFR, so the local FAA may not even be aware of the crash.
One anonymous source told us that the fighter experienced a compressor stall, flaming out the engine. Unable to relight the engine, the pilot aimed the jet at a ranch road located north of Barnhart and hoped for the best. Some L-39s in civilian use are equipped with ejection seats, some are not. We do not know if the pilot had the option to eject. According to the best data we have, the L-39 touched down at a very high rate of descent of 2,116 feet per minute.
After touchdown, the jet went out of control. Either it was too fast or it veered off the ranch road — or both. It ended up crashing through Mesquite brush before coming to a stop with its landing gear relatively undamaged, according to the photos we saw. We were told the pilot walked away from the crash landing.
This L-39 is registered to a U.S. owner in Pearland near Houston called Phantom Phlyers, LLC. The L-39 is considered to be a high performance "warbird" operating under an Experimental Exhibition Special Airworthiness Certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration. Warbirds have been highlighted by the FAA since the tragic crash of the WWII era B-17 Flying Fortress called the Texas Raiders that crashed at Dallas Executive Airport during the annual CAF “Airsho 22” last November. In mid-April, there were reports that the remaining B-17s that are still flying may be grounded by the FAA due to wing spar issues.
The L-39 is a two-seat high performance jet trainer used in the Warsaw Pact. In the 1990s, after the Berlin Wall fell, the L-39 was sold all over the world and is the most widely used military jet trainer in the world.
The airplane will likely be loaded onto a flatbed trailer and removed from the crash site soon, we were told.