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Navy fighter jet crash near Death Valley’s ‘Star Wars Canyon,’ seven visitors injured

Star Wars Canyon
A photographer said he captured the military jet before and and after it crashed.
(KGrif Photography)

A U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet jet crashed in Death Valley National Park near Father Crowley Vista Point Wednesday morning, leaving seven visitors with minor injuries. The status of the pilot remains unknown.

The crash occurred at approximately 10 a.m. near an area often referred to as Star Wars Canyon, not far from the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake.

For the record:
2:29 PM, Jul. 31, 2019 A previous version of this article referred to the jet that crashed as an F/A-185E. It is an F/A-18E.

“We’re still trying to figure things out on our end,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Lydia Bock. “We have a search-and-rescue that has been dispatched out of China Lake and search-and-rescue out of Naval Station Lemoore with a medic on board.”

Search-and-rescue teams plan to continue their search for the pilot throughout the night.

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“We’re looking for an aviator out there, hoping for the best,” an official said.

While it is not common for military jets to fly low over national parks, it is a standard practice in Death Valley.

3075042_ME_0318_Star_Wars_Canyon_IK
Photographers train their cameras at an F-18 fighter jet from Lemoore Naval Air Station as it dives into Rainbow Canyon.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

“It’s one of the main attractions,” said Death Valley National Park public information officer Patrick Taylor.

The Air Force and Navy have used the area for military training practices since the early 1930s.

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Most of the aircraft that pass through come from Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, Naval Air Station Lemoore, Edwards Air Force Base, Fresno Air National Guard Base and Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. International jets are also known to make flybys.

It’s unclear whether those who reported injuries were in the area to observe the jets. Taylor said the area also provides a parking lot and a restroom.

“There’s a lot of people that stop there totally unassociated with the jets,” he said.

Times staff writer Ruben Vives contributed to this report.


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