Blue Angels jet crashes after take-off in Tennessee, killing pilot

Christopher P. Cavas, Meghann Myers and David Larter, Staff writers

An F/A-18 Hornet with the Navy’s elite demonstration squadron crashed shortly after take-off Thursday, killing the pilot just days before a weekend air show performance, officials said.

A U.S. official told the Associated Press that 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.

Kuss was a native of Durango, Colorado, and was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the Marines in 2006. He previously served in Afghanistan before joining the Blue Angels.

An initial Navy incident report says the Blue Angels jet crashed just after takeoff in a residential area and the pilot is not believed to have ejected. The report identifies it as Blue Angels plane No. 6. There are no reports of any civilians injured or homes damaged.

The jet crashed at 3:01 p.m. in Smyrna, Tennessee, according to AIRFOR spokeswoman Cmdr. Jeannie Groeneveld.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the crew and the pilot and their families,” Groeneveld said.

An AIRFOR spokesman declined to confirm the pilot’s death until his family has been notified of 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.

The rare Blues crash — the first in nearly a decade for the elite demonstration team, whose aviators are hand-picked to fly in tight formations and high-G force maneuvers — comes within hours of the crash of an Air Force F-16 Thunderbird after an Air Force Academy graduation flyby. The pilot ejected safely and is to be meet with President Obama.

It is also the third F/A-18 Navy crash in a week.

A thick black plume of smoke could be seen just beyond the runway at Smyrna Airport, according to The Tennessean.

All other Blue Angels aircraft have landed and are on the ground. The six jets roared over downtown Nashville earlier Thursday.

The crash comes one week after two F/A-18F Super Hornets collided off the coast of North Carolina. All four aircrew safely ejected, were recovered by the Coast Guard and airlifted to a local hospital for treatment.

It’s been almost a decade since the last Blue Angels crash, on April 21, 2007, when Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Davis became disoriented during a G-pull and crashed in the final minutes of the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort Air Show in South Carolina.

Three years earlier, Lt. Ted Steelman suffered minor injuries after ejecting from his F/A-18, which suffered major engine structural damage when it struck the water off Perdido Key, Florida.

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