UPDATED: After a day of research, the US Navy announced the death of the pilot of a single-seat F/A-18E Super Hornet jet that crashed in Death Valley National Park, California. The incident injured seven tourists on the ground.
The aircraft was part of the ‘Vigilantes’ of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 151 based at Naval Air Station Lemoore, California, and attached to the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis. It was on a routine training flight when the mishap occurred.
According to a statement released by the NAS Lemoore, the crash happened 40 miles north of Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, on July 31, 2019. The seven people injured on the ground were French tourists, all members of the same family.
“We were in front of the valley and the planes crashed, around 50 meters from us,” said one of the tourists to ABC7. While six of them only sustained minor injuries due to the shrapnel from the crash, a woman had to be transported to a local hospital after suffering burns on her back.
A search operation was started to retrieve the pilot. A witness said to the Associated Press that he did not see any sign of ejection. On August 1, 2019, Navy spokesperson Lydia Bock announced the death of the pilot. An investigation into the cause of the incident has been opened.
F-18 fighter jet crash in Death Valley. Federal authorities still at Father Crowley Lookout after sunset. Toward the end of this clip you can see the blackened side of the canyon where the jet exploded after the crash. Still no word on whether the pilot made it out alive. pic.twitter.com/Tfi1ktxel1
— Rob McMillan (@abc7robmcmillan) August 1, 2019
The crash happened near one of the most famous plane spotting locations of the United States, the Rainbow Canyon. It is popularly referred to as the “Star Wars Canyon” due to its resemblance to the fictional planet of Tatooine, or to the maneuvers of the pilots, which remind some that can be seen in the movie.
This place is especially popular among tourists and aviation enthusiasts, as it allows them to observe flights of military aircraft at an exceptionally low altitude. The United States Air Force even refers to it as the “Jedi Transition” in its official documentation.
On November 12, 2018, an F/A-18 Hornet fighter of the U.S. Navy crashed during a routine exercise in the Philippine Sea on November 12, 2018. The plane was part of the Carrier Air Wing 5, operating from the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan. The two pilots managed to eject safely and were recovered by the search and rescue aircraft onboard the aircraft carrier.