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Navy F/A-18 fighter jet crashes in Death Valley; pilot ejects

An F/A-18F Super Hornet in flight over Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division China Lake. (U.S. Navy photo by Mike McGinnis/Released)
October 06, 2021

A U.S. Navy pilot was able to safely eject from a F/A-18F Super Hornet before it crashed in a remote part of Death Valley National Park, near the California-Nevada border on Monday.

The Super Hornet crashed at around 3 p.m. PT on Monday, according to a U.S. Navy press release first released late Tuesday afternoon. The pilot ejected before the crash and was taken to Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. The pilot was treated for minor injuries and released from the hospital later that night.

The Super Hornet was assigned to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Nine (VX-9), based out of Naval Air Weapons Station (NAWS) China Lake, near Ridgecrest, Calif.

Search and rescue units from NAWS China Lake, Fort Irwin Army Base, and the Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One (MAWTS-1) from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma all responded to the scene of the crash and rescued the ejected pilot.

No civilians were harmed as a result of this crash incident, which occurred in a remote area in the southern part of Death Valley National Park.

The cause of the crash is not clear at this time. The incident is currently under investigation and the Navy is cooperating fully with local authorities on the matter.

The Navy is coordinating cleanup efforts of the crash site and surrounding wilderness area with the National Park Service.

An F/A-18E Super Hornet suffered a fatal crash in Death Valley National Park on July 31, 2019. The pilot, 33-year-old Lt. Charles Walker, died near a narrow canyon, nicknamed “Star Wars Canyon” and the “Jedi Transition” for its resemblance to the fictional Star Wars planet of Tatooine. Seven French civilians were standing about 40 feet above where Walker’s Super Hornet impacted and they suffered varying degrees of burns that required hospitalization.

“Star Wars Canyon” had been a popular area for military pilots to practice low-level flight training. Walker was a Top Gun graduate; and the most experienced pilot in his squadron, Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 151. Following that fatal crash, flight training through “Star Wars Canyon” was prohibited and a 1,500-foot flight altitude restriction has been imposed around the canyon.

In October another F/A-18E Super Hornet from Naval Air Station Lemoore in California went down during a training mission in the Mojave Desert. The pilot in that incident was able to safely eject and was taken to a local hospital in stable condition.