Eye-witness accounts said the F/A-18E 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.
The pilot of the single-seat F/A-18E fighter jet from VFA-151 Vigilantes 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, most probably F/A-18E BuNo. 168471, NG-400, the CAG bird of the squadron, crashed at about 10 a.m. local time in the so-called “Star Wars Canyon” – a popular spot for military aviation photographers in the Death Valley National Park.
A Navy summary of the crash 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.
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.
Photo credit: U.S. Navy