Wednesday 21 August 2019

US fighter jet crashes in Death Valley, injuring seven park visitors

The pilot of the Super Hornet jet is missing.

File photo of an F/A-18D Hornet flying out of what is known as Star Wars Canyon. On Wednesday, July 31, 2019 a US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet jet crashed in the California desert (Ben Margot, AP)
File photo of an F/A-18D Hornet flying out of what is known as Star Wars Canyon. On Wednesday, July 31, 2019 a US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet jet crashed in the California desert (Ben Margot, AP)

By Brian Melley, Associated Press

A US Navy fighter jet has crashed in Death Valley National Park in California, injuring seven people who were at a scenic viewpoint, officials said.

The crash sent dark smoke billowing in the air, said Aaron Cassell, who was working at his family’s Panamint Springs Resort about 10 miles away.

“I just saw a black mushroom cloud go up,” Mr Cassell said.

“Typically you don’t see a mushroom cloud in the desert.”

A search was under way for the pilot of the single-seat F/A-18 Super Hornet that was on a routine training mission, said Lt Cmdr Lydia Bock, spokeswoman for Naval air station Lemoore in California’s Central Valley.

“The status of the pilot is unknown at this time,” Ms Bock said.

A military helicopter searched for the pilot.

Ambulances were sent to the crash site near Father Crowley Overlook, where aviation enthusiasts watch military pilots speeding low through a chasm dubbed Star Wars Canyon, but it was not clear if anyone was taken for further medical treatment, said park spokesman Patrick Taylor.

KABC-TV spoke to tourists who said they were treated for minor burns and cuts from flying fragments after the plane crashed and exploded.

It looked like a bomb. To me that speaks of a very violent impact Aaron Cassell

The injured tourists told the news station they were taking photos of the sweeping landscape when the jet screamed into view and suddenly slammed into the canyon wall.

The lookout point about 160 miles north of Los Angeles is popular with photographers and aviation buffs who watch jets flying in the steep, narrow canyon.

US and foreign militaries train pilots and test jets in the gorge officially called Rainbow Canyon near the park’s western entrance.

Military flights there date back to the Second World War.

The chasm got its nickname because mineral-rich soil and red, gray and pink walls bring to mind the home planet of Star Wars character Luke Skywalker.

Training flights are almost a daily feature with jets thundering below the rim of the canyon and passing so close viewers can see the pilots’ facial expressions.

Mr Cassell said he heard jets roaring through the area and then saw the cloud of smoke.

“It looked like a bomb,” he said. “To me that speaks of a very violent impact.”

A jet that was following the downed craft pulled up and began circling, Mr Cassell said.

He did not see any parachute.

His father drove up to the area after the crash and saw a large black scorch mark and shattered parts of the jet scattered throughout the area between the parking lot and lookout, Mr Cassell said.

A nose cone from the jet was the size of a bowling ball and the rest of the debris was no larger than a ball cap.

The jet was from strike fighter squadron VFA-151 stationed at Lemoore.

PA Media

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