Navy finds debris field of downed Hornet jet

An F/A-18C Hornet  launches from the flight deck of Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower.  (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Chad R. Erdmann)

An F/A-18C Hornet launches from the flight deck of Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Chad R. Erdmann)

Search teams worked into the night and into the early morning looking for a Navy pilot and his F/A-18C jet that crashed Saturday afternoon in the remote desert somewhere between Fallon and Austin.

The Navy confirmed this morning that a debris field has been found within a training area, and although the Navy will not confirm or deny information regarding the pilot’s death, a spokesperson said in accordance with Department of Defense policy, the name of the pilot will be withheld until 24 hours following notification of next of kin.

The Navy’s initial news release incorrectly identified the aircraft as a U.S. Navy Hornet, but it was actually a U.S. Marine Corps F/A-18C on loan to the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center for use as a training aircraft.

“Initial reports from the scene indicate the aircraft is a total loss,” said Lt. Reagan Lauritzen, a public affairs officer with the Naval Air Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet in San Diego,

“It took Navy personnel several hours to reach the crash site as it was located in remote, rugged, mountainous terrain,” she said. “A snow storm overnight in the area also hindered the effort.”

Lauritzen said there are no reports of any other injuries or property damage associated with the crash.

Additionally, she said the aircraft was not carrying any weapons or other munitions on the training flight.

The cause of the crash is under investigation.

There were no reports of any other injuries or damage as a result of the crash and the jet was not carrying any weapons or munitions on the training flight, the Navy said.

The F/A-18c had been conducting a training flight on the U.S. Navy Range Training Complex when it reportedly crashed at 3 p.m.

The FRTC, which consists of four Bravo training areas throughout rural Churchill County, conducts Carrier Air Wing training, advanced instructor training, fleet replacement squadron training, integrated air-to-air and air-to-ground unit level training, joint exercises and tactics development.

The Navy said they have received help from Lander County’s Search and Rescue because the aircraft had been found art the north end of Monitor Valley east of Austin.

The following Navy mishap reports either involved Navy jets or helicopters and their crews or Navy personnel flying civilian aircraft.

In 2012, two separate crashes involving the F/A-18 Hornet occurred.

• A Marine F/A-18C Hornet crashed in a remote range area of the Fallon Range Training Complex at on the afternoon of Sept. 1. According to the Commander Naval Air Forces, the pilot ejected safely from the aircraft and was treated at Banner Churchill Community Hospital in Fallon for minor injuries and released.

The pilot and aircraft were from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron THREE TWO THREE (VMFA-323), based at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar and were in Fallon as part of Carrier Air Wing 11.

• Two pilots were in good condition after their single F/A-18F Super Hornet crashed on March 2 during a training flight about 30 miles northeast of Fallon in an unpopulated, dry lakebed.

A Navy spokesman said the pilots ejected safely and were recovered by a U.S. Navy helicopter shortly after the incident. Neither pilot sustained major injuries and each was transported to NAS Fallon for a complete medical evaluation.

The pilots were attending the Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor course conducted by the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center.

• A pilot killed in a March 6, 2012, crash at Naval Air Station Fallon was identified as retired Capt. Carroll LeFon, 51, of San Diego.

LeFon, who retired from the Navy in 2008, was also known as Neptunus Lex on his blog site.

LeFon was flying an Israeli-built F-21 Kfir jet owned by Airborne Tactical Advantage Co., which is based in Newport News, Va. Airborne Tactical Advantage Co., which owned the jet, supports the training mission at NAS Fallon. The contractor simulates enemy aircraft for Navy pilots during training exercises. LeFon was a civilian who worked for the company.

According to multiple sources, the jet crashed into a small arms munitions building near the base’s west gate at about 9:15 a.m. The impact of the crash set off several small secondary explosions.

• An F/A-18A Hornet aircraft attempting to land at Naval Air Station Fallon crashed on Sept. 13, 2011.

The pilot ejected safely from the aircraft before it crashed, and he was treated at Banner Churchill Community Hospital in Fallon for minor injuries.

The aircraft, operated by Strike Fighter Squadron 204 from NAS New Orleans, veered off the runway and crashed on Navy property just east of the field. The aircraft was completing a mission as an adversary aircraft during a night training exercise.

• A mid-air collision occurred March 15, 2010, north of Austin.

The Navy said F/A-18E Super Hornets assigned to NAS Lemoore were flying in a training mission when the accident occurred.

The pilot of the severely damaged jet ejected, while the other pilot was able to return his Super Hornet to NAS Fallon.

The Navy said the pilot who ejected landed in waist-deep snow and had to wait about 90 minutes to be rescued by the air station’s Longhorns Search and Rescue helicopter.

The pilot was then taken to Banner Churchill Community Hospital where he was treated for mild hypothermia and released. The other, according to the Navy, pilot was examined as a precaution and released.

• A jet owned by ATAC crashed July 8, 2010, near NAS Fallon.

The pilot was able to eject safely from the A-4 jet, which crashed in a buffer zone north of the base.

In that mishap, a Brief of Accident issued on July 12, 2011, by the National Transportation Safety Board determined the probable cause of the A-4 crash as “A loss of engine power during takeoff due to the failure of the engine’s stator and turbine. Contributing to the accident was inadequate maintenance.”

• Naval Air Station Fallon Executive Officer Cmdr. Luther Hook, 44, and three of his daughters died in a plane crash that took place May 22, 2009, near the Fallon Municipal Airport.

Hook died in the twin-engine Cessna crash along with three daughters. The identifications came through preliminary information provided by family, friends and airport representatives. The four were en route to Fallon from Fresno, Calif.

• A Navy jet landed safely at NAS Fallon following an in-flight emergency on March 20, 2009.

The Navy said the aircraft, an FA-18E Super Hornet, suffered a hydraulic caution warning that required the pilot to shut down one engine and land as soon as practical. Furthermore, a Navy spokesman said on the jet’s approach to NAS Fallon, about 2,000 pounds of fuel were released east of the city of Fallon. The fuel release was conducted at 6,000 feet above ground level in accordance with both Navy and FAA procedures.

• A Navy pilot died June 13, 2008, after his F/A-18C Hornet collided with a two-seater F-5 Tiger during a training mission approximately 60 miles east of Fallon, halfway between Middlegate and the Eastgate turnoff.

The Navy said the collision occurred at approximately 12:10 p.m. near one of the training ranges. Some of the wreckage was found about one mile from U.S. Highway 50.

The rescued pilots safely ejected from the F-5 and were taken to Banner Churchill Community Hospital.

A Navy spokesman said the F-5 Tiger was assigned to the “Saints” of Fighter Squadron Composite ONE THREE (VFC-13) and based at Fallon. The single seat Hornet was assigned to the “Valions” of Strike Fighter Squadron ONE FIVE (VFA-15), NAS Oceana, Virginia Beach.

The Hornet belonged to a carrier air group that arrived in Fallon for one month of training at the beginning of June. The Navy said the F-5 Tiger is primarily used for training at NAS Fallon.

• Five U.S. Navy crewmembers were killed on the night of May 7, 2007, when their helicopter clipped power lines and crashed 10 miles west of Austin during a routine training mission. The crash occurred at 9:25 p.m. on the Naval Air Station Fallon’s training range, reported the Navy.

Other military aircraft involved in the Combat Search and Rescue training mission were able to locate the crash site at 9:40 p.m., and a rescue helicopter from NAS Fallon arrived on the scene at approximately 10:15 p.m.

Faye Andersen, spokeswoman for Sierra Pacific Power Co., said the aircraft severed a static wire atop a 100-foot tall transmission line. The wire acts as a lightning rod, attracting lightning strikes to prevent direct hits and damage to the high-voltage line, she said.

The aircraft was an SH-60F helicopter assigned to the Helicopter Antisubmarine Squadron Seven (HS-7), the “Dusty Dogs,” based in Jacksonville, Fla.


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