The pilot of a Navy jet fighter that crashed in Death Valley National Park was killed, the military said Thursday, per the AP. The identity of the pilot will be withheld until 24 hours after notification of next of kin in accordance with Defense Department policy, the Navy said in a statement. The F/A-18E Super Hornet was assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron VFA-151 based at Naval Air Station Lemoore in California's Central Valley. The unit goes by the nickname "Vigilantes." The jet went down Wednesday during low-level flying in what was described as routine training. The crash injured seven people who were at a scenic overlook where aviation enthusiasts routinely watch military aircraft speeding low through a chasm dubbed "Star Wars Canyon."
The crash sent dark smoke billowing in the air, said Aaron Cassell, who was working about 10 miles away. "I just saw a black mushroom cloud go up," he said. "Typically you don't see a mushroom cloud in the desert." Ambulances were sent to the crash site near Father Crowley Overlook, said park spokesman Patrick Taylor. He said initial reports were that seven park visitors had minor injuries. KABC-TV spoke to a group of French tourists who said they were treated at a hospital for minor burns and cuts from flying fragments after the plane crashed and exploded. The Super Hornet is a twin-engine warplane designed to fly from either aircraft carriers or ground bases on both air-superiority and ground-attack missions. The cause of the crash is under investigation, per ABC.
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