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Thunderbirds pilot killed after jet crashes near Las Vegas

Updated April 4, 2018 - 9:13 pm

An Air Force Thunderbirds pilot died Wednesday morning when his fighter jet crashed during a routine training mission outside Las Vegas, military officials said.

His F-16 Fighting Falcon crashed over the Nevada Test and Training Range about 10:30 a.m., a Nellis Air Force Base release said. Details of the crash were not available.

“An investigation is being conducted into the cause of the mishap,” the release said.

The test range covers 3 million acres and provides 12,000 square miles of restricted airspace to the north and northwest of Las Vegas for pilots to rehearse and test warplanes.

Wednesday’s deadly crash was the second for Nellis in less than a year. In September, an Air Force pilot, Lt. Col. Eric Schultz, was killed in a plane crash during a training mission on the test range.

The day after Schultz was killed, two pilots safely ejected from A-10C Thunderbolt II jets during training at the range. The pilots were hospitalized but released with minor injuries.

In January, a Royal Australian Air Force plane aborted its takeoff at Nellis and caught fire during a combat training exercise. Five people were treated for minor injuries.

In June 2017, a Nellis Thunderbird flipped after landing during a “familiarization flight” for an air show in Ohio. The pilot and his passenger were hospitalized but survived the crash.

Wednesday’s crash also was the second deadly event involving a military show pilot in less than two years. In June 2016, Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss was killed when his Blue Angel F/A-18 jet crashed during practice in Tennessee. The Navy attributed the crash to pilot error.

The same day, a Thunderbird jet crashed after a flyover of an Air Force Academy graduation ceremony near Colorado Springs that was attended by President Barack Obama. The pilot ejected and had a minor injury from the crash, and nobody on the ground was hurt. The Air Force determined the crash was caused by a throttle malfunction.

Wednesday’s crash was the third U.S. military aircraft crash this week.

On Tuesday, four crew members were killed when a Marine helicopter crashed during a training mission in Southern California. The CH-53E Super Stallion crashed in a desert area just outside El Centro, near the U.S. -Mexico border. The helicopter was assigned to the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing out of the Air Station Miramar in San Diego. The crew members have not yet been identified, and the cause of the crash is under investigation.

The same day, a Marine Harrier jet crashed during takeoff from an airport in the East African county of Djibouti. The pilot ejected and was being medically evaluated.

The Thunderbirds formed in May 1953 as the Air Demonstration Unit at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, according to the team’s website.

The unit was scheduled to perform this weekend at the March Air Reserve Base near Riverside, California, but their performance has been canceled, the Nellis release said. It wasn’t clear whether the crash would affect additional performances.

The unit made Nellis its home in 1956 and the first red, white and blue F-16 Thunderbird was delivered to the base in June 1982.

Contact Blake Apgar at bapgar@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5298. Follow @blakeapgar on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writer Mike Shoro and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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