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Navy Declares Pilot in Death Valley Super Hornet Crash Dead

An F/A-18E Super Hornet, assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 151, flies over the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) in the Pacific Ocean, Feb. 19, 2019. The John C. Stennis is deployed to the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations in support of security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Grant G. Grady)

The pilot of a single-seat F/A-18E fighter that crashed on Wednesday has been declared dead, Navy officials said Thursday afternoon.

“The Navy has confirmed that the pilot of the F/A-18E Super Hornet that crashed July 31st died in the crash,” spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Lydia Bock told USNI News in a statement.
“The identity of the pilot will be withheld until 24 hours following notification of next of kin. The Navy mourns the loss of one of our own, and our hearts go out to the family and friends affected by this tragedy.”

The Super Hornet assigned to the “Vigilantes” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 151, based at Naval Air Station Lemoore, Calif., crashed at about 10 a.m. local time in the so-called “Star Wars Valley” – a popular spot for military aviation photographers in the Death Valley National Park.

A Navy summary of the crash reviewed by USNI News said the aircraft impacted against the side of the canyon wall during low altitude training.

The National Park Service told reporters that seven people suffered minor injuries as a result of the crash.

Eye-witness accounts said the aircraft had run into the canyon wall at high speed, creating a mushroom cloud that could be seen for miles in the surrounding desert. They did not see the pilot eject. Images from the scene show a dark patch on the canyon wall where the fighter is believed to have hit.

Image via KABC-TV showing where a F/A-18E Super Hornet crashed on July 31, 2019, in Death Valley National Park, Calif.

The incident is now under investigation.

VFA-151 is part of Carrier Air Wing 9, which returned to California earlier this year after completing a deployment aboard USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74).

The fighter crash follows a November two-seat Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet crash in the Philippine Sea. Both aviators were recovered safely.

In December, a two-seat Marine F/A-18D Hornet crashed during an aerial refueling operation off the coast of Japan. The Hornet pilot and the five Marines aboard KC-130J refueler were killed.

The following is the complete Navy Aug. 1 statement on the crash.

The Navy has confirmed that the pilot of the F/A-18E Super Hornet that crashed July 31st died in the crash. In accordance with Department of Defense policy, the identity of the pilot will be withheld until 24 hours following notification of next of kin. The Navy mourns the loss of one of our own and our hearts go out to the family and friends affected by this tragedy.

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Categories: Aviation, News & Analysis, U.S. Navy
Sam LaGrone

About Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone is the editor of USNI News. He has covered legislation, acquisition and operations for the Sea Services since 2009 and spent time underway with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Navy.