Pilot died in F/A-18E fighter jet crash in Death Valley National Park, Navy confirms

INYO COUNTY, Calif. -- The pilot of an F/A-18E Super Hornet died when the fighter jet crashed Wednesday morning in Inyo County, the U.S. Navy confirmed Thursday.

"In accordance with Department of Defense policy, the identity of the pilot will be withheld until 24 hours following notification of next of kin," Strike Fighter Wing Pacific said in a statement. "The Navy mourns the loss of one of our own and our hearts go out to the family and friends affected by this tragedy."

Seven people on the ground suffered minor cuts and burns when they were struck by shrapnel from the wreckage, according to a Death Valley National Park spokesperson.

All of them are being treated at the Grossman Burn Center at West Hills Hospital. Dr. Peter Grossman said two of the injured have been admitted to the hospital, another four will ultimately require surgery for severe burn injuries, and one person sustained burns that don't require intensive care.

The jet was assigned to the "Vigilantes" of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 151, based at Naval Air Station Lemoore in California's Fresno and Kings counties, military officials said. The 10 a.m. crash occurred about 40 miles north of Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake.

Two pilots were flying a pair of planes on a training mission, but only one returned, said the fighter wing's commander, Capt. James Bates, at a Wednesday press conference.

The jet went down on the west side of Death Valley National Park, near the Father Crowley Overlook. The overlook is an area informally known as "Star Wars Canyon," which has been used for military training flights since the 1930s, said Patrick Taylor, a park spokesperson.

The location regularly attracts tourists eager to watch military pilots make their way through the narrow canyon in maneuvers that evoke the "Star Wars" films.

The cause of the crash remains under investigation.
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