The death of a Beaufort Marine pilot who crashed his F/A-18 Hornet into the Atlantic Ocean last year was most likely caused by oxygen deprivation, but the exact reason for the crash may never be known, according to a Marine Corps report completed after the accident.'Capt. Franklin R. Hooks, 32, was taking part in a training exercise on June 27, 2004, when he crashed south of the Azores, in the eastern Atlantic. 'Hooks, a pilot with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 115, The Silver Eagles, had been training off the USS Harry Truman when the crash occurred, according to the Marine report released this month. He had logged the second-most night systems hours within his division.'
Although investigators suspect that a lack of oxygen caused the crash, neither Hooks' body nor the jet were recovered, which makes determining an exact cause impossible, said Mike Barton, a spokesman at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in North Carolina. The Silver Eagles are part of Marine Aircraft Group 31, which is overseen by the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, based at Cherry Point.'
"In aircraft accidents, they piece them back together and can determine the smallest details," Barton said. "Whereas in this case, without the aircraft, they can't do that."'
Hooks, who was designated a naval aviator in 2000 and assigned to Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in 2001, became confused during the flight, which could have been caused by a lack of oxygen, the report states.'
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At one point in the flight, Hooks was unable to join up with the rest of his group, and when asked about his oxygen levels, he gave an unintelligible reply, according to the report.'
When asked if he was experiencing vertigo or needed a descent, Hooks answered that he did not, according to the report.'
"At the time of the flight, neither Captain Hooks nor any other member of the mishap flight recognized the nature or severity of his distress in time to prevent the mishap," the report states. "(Hooks) failed to recognize the deadly consequences of his symptoms before losing the mental clarity to calculate an appropriate course of action or to clearly articulate his problem."'
The report states that Hooks' flight gear and jet were properly maintained and prepared for use before the crash.'
Hooks had an existing illness or cold, which may have contributed to his problems in the air, the report states.'
But Hooks did not "feel strong enough about his condition to remove himself from the flight schedule, an action that he had demonstrated in past circumstances," the report states.'
While no punitive action was taken as a result of the investigation, the report recommended that the squadron's commanding officer review the cockpit navigation flight systems in the jets, as well as cockpit pressurization.'
More training should be given to pilots regarding oxygen deprivation and not flying if they do not feel well, the report states.'Hooks' crash marked the fourth of five Beaufort-based Hornet crashes from October 2003 to June 2004.'
Just days after Hooks' crash, Canadian Air Force Capt. Derek Nichols was killed when his Hornet crashed while landing at the air station.'In October 2003, two Hornets with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 115 collided over the Atlantic. '
In March 2004, a Hornet belonging to Navy Strike Fighter Squadron 82, The Marauders, crashed into the ocean about 43 miles southeast of Beaufort. In both crashes, all three pilots safely ejected. An all-weather fighter and attack aircraft, the average F/A-18 Hornet, costs about $35 million.