Ex-Engineer Charged With Obstructing Inquiry Into Military Crash That Killed 16

A former U.S. Air Force engineer has been charged with making false statements and obstructing justice during a federal criminal investigation into a 2017 military plane crash that killed 16 people, the Justice Department said Wednesday.

The engineer, James Michael Fisher, 67, formerly of Warner Robins, Ga., had been living in Portugal when he was arrested Tuesday morning on an indictment issued by a federal grand jury in the Northern District of Mississippi, the department said in a news release. He is charged with two counts each of making false statement charges and obstruction of justice. If convicted, could receive up to 20 years in prison.

According to the department, Mr. Fisher, a former lead propulsion engineer at the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex, “engaged in a pattern of conduct intended to avoid scrutiny for his past engineering decisions related to why the crash may have occurred.” He also “knowingly concealed key engineering documents” from investigators and “made materially false statements” to them about his decisions, the department said.

The Justice Department did not specify a cause of the crash, which took place on July 10, 2017, in the Mississippi Delta when a U.S. Marine Corps KC-130 aircraft known as Yanky 72 crashed near Itta Bena, Miss., killing 15 members of the Marine Corps and a Navy corpsman. Witnesses at the time said the plane had disintegrated in the air as it neared the ground, prompting an urgent rescue effort in one of the South’s most rural areas. The authorities estimated the debris field was about three miles in diameter.

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for further information on Wednesday evening, and court documents could not immediately be obtained. It was unclear if Mr. Fisher had legal representation. The Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex also did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Wednesday evening.

Alain Delaquérière contributed research.

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