SMYRNA, Tenn. (AP) — A Blue Angels F/A-18 fighter jet crashed Thursday near Nashville, Tennessee, killing the pilot just days before a weekend air show performance, officials said.
A U.S. official said the pilot was Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss. The official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. According to his official Blue Angels biography, Kuss joined the elite acrobatics team in 2014 and accumulated more than 1,400 flight hours.
Harry Gill, the town manager in Smyrna just outside Nashville, said Thursday that the pilot was the only casualty and no civilians on the ground were hurt.
The Navy said in a news release that the pilot was beginning to take off during an afternoon practice session when the crash happened. Five other F/A-18 jets landed safely moments after the crash.
“My thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of the Blue Angels after this tragic loss. I know that the Navy and Marine Corps Team is with me. We will investigate this accident fully and do all we can to prevent similar incidents in the future,” Adm. John Richardson, the Navy’s top officer, said in a Facebook post.
Five other F/A-18 jets landed safely moments after the crash.
This is the second fighter jet crash of the day for the military’s elite fighter jet performance teams. A member of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds crashed in a field near Colorado Springs, Colorado, following a flyover for the Air Force Academy graduation where President Barack Obama spoke.
The F-16 Fighting Falcon, the No. 6 jet in the formation, crashed about 5 nautical miles south of Peterson Air Force Base at approximately 1 p.m., according to an Air Combat Command news release.
The pilot ejected safely and is with medical personnel undergoing evaluation as a precaution, the release said.
“My thoughts are with the pilot, their family and friends and all (of the Thunderbirds personnel),” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James wrote in a tweet. “Glad to hear pilot is safe.”
The Air Force will perform a thorough investigation into the causes of the mishap, and those findings will be released when the investigation is complete.
People near the Blue Angels crash site told The Tennessean newspaper that they heard a huge explosion and saw a massive plume of smoke when the plane went down.
Jennifer Elliott, who had been watching the Blue Angels jets practice before going inside her house, said everything shook.
“It sounded like car crashed into my house,” she said.
Rebecca Durand told the newspaper she thought the jet was performing a stunt when she saw its nose come straight down.
“Instead, I just saw this big orange explosion,” she said.
In Smyrna, retired teacher Brenda Lewis and her 21-year-old grandson had spent much of the day in her back yard near the airport watching the Blue Angels fly overhead.
She’s seen them many times before.
“But this afternoon, something made me really want to watch them,” she said. “They looked like they were having such a good time playing up there.”
She went inside to bake a chocolate pie when she heard a loud boom. She didn’t think too much of it at first because the airport is just on the other side of her tree line and she’s used to loud noises.
Then she heard sirens and went around the corner. She saw the smoke rising and police cars arriving. She went inside because she didn’t want to see any more.
“I’m always so fascinated by them, the anticipation of it all,” she said of their airshow. “Then something tragic like this happens. My heart is just broken.”
Written by KRISTIN M. HALL, Associated Press and LOLITA C. BALDOR, Associated Press; Baldor reported from Washington.
Additional content added by update regarding the Colorado incident from an Air Force news release.
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