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Pilot killed in Northern California U-2 spy plane crash is identified as investigation continues

The pilot who died after a U-2 spy plane crashed in Northern California was identified Wednesday as Lt. Col Ira S. Eadie, military officials said.

Eadie, assigned to the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron at Beale Air Force Base, was on a training mission Tuesday with another pilot in the two-person aircraft, according to the U.S. Air Force.

The two pilots ejected just after takeoff, and the plane smashed into a rural area north of Sacramento, officials said.

The other pilot suffered injuries that were not life-threatening; on Wednesday, the Air Force said the pilot remains hospitalized in stable condition.

The second pilot’s identity as well as Eadie’s age and hometown were not released.

The crash occurred about 9 a.m. Tuesday. Air Force officials had initially reported the pair had safely ejected from the plane but later confirmed Eadie’s death. The extent of the second pilot’s injuries was not disclosed.

Col. Danielle Barnes told the Associated Press that both pilots had deployed their parachutes. But Barnes, who oversees base operations, did not provide details on what caused the plane to go down, citing the ongoing investigation.

The site of the crash will remain under monitoring by security personnel, Barnes said.

"We want to maintain the integrity of the crash site,” Barnes said.

Photographs from the scene showed the tail of the aircraft sticking out of a scorched hillside with wreckage scattered around it.

“There’s always inherent dangers in an ejection. The technology is fantastic, but it’s not foolproof,” Col. Larry Broadwell, the base commander, said in a news conference. “I would match the safety and maintenance record of the U-2 with any of the apparatus the Air Force flies.”

The Beale air base, about 45 miles north of Sacramento, is home to America's fleet of high-altitude spy planes. The base’s motto is emblazoned on signs: “In God We Trust. All Others We Monitor.”

The U-2 flies to 70,000 feet — higher than any other U.S. military aircraft. It’s also among the oldest. The spy plane was first designed during the Eisenhower administration to breach the Iron Curtain.

There have been 33 updated versions of the jet that still flies today. A handful are equipped with two seats to allow for training missions, like the aircraft involved in Tuesday’s incident.

The U-2 is perhaps best known as the plane that was shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960. Pilot Francis Gary Powers was captured and traded for a Soviet spy nearly two years later, but the embarrassing incident convinced U.S. officials that manned spy planes posed too many risks.

The military now relies more heavily on drones for reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering. The U-2 is set to be retired by 2019.

The last time a U-2 Dragon Lady crashed in the area was Aug. 7, 1996, in Oroville, about 40 miles north of Beale Air Force Base.

The spy plane crashed into a parking lot outside the offices of an Oroville newspaper, killing the pilot. The plane’s wreckage also struck and killed a woman as she left the newspaper’s office.

Times staff writer W.J. Hennigan contributed to this article.

matt.hamilton@latimes.com

Twitter: @MattHjourno.

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