Air Force Thunderbirds pilot killed in F-16 crash near Las Vegas

An F-16 fighter jet takes off from Nellis Air Force Base outside Las Vegas in this 1999 photograph.
(Laura Rauch / Associated Press)

A U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds pilot was killed Wednesday while doing routine training maneuvers at Nellis Air Force Base, officials said.

The pilot’s identity was being withheld pending notification of next of kin.

Air Force officials said the pilot’s F-16 fighter plane went down about 10:30 a.m. on the Nevada Test and Training Range. The cause of the crash was not immediately known and the Accident Investigation Board of the Air Force was investigating.

In response to the crash, the Thunderbirds canceled their participation at this weekend’s Air & Space Expo at March Air Force Base in Riverside County. Officials at Nellis Air Force Base said it was unclear how the mishap would affect the Thunderbirds’ schedule for the remainder of the year. The team performs a heavy schedule, with 33 shows already set for 2018.


According to the Thunderbirds’ website, eight of the 12 officers assigned to the team are experienced fighter pilots and six fly in air show demonstrations. Officers of the elite team serve two-year tour stints and, according to the website, three of the six demonstration pilots change each year to maintain smooth transitions within the team.

The Thunderbirds have been performing since 1953.

Clark County Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick, whose district includes Nellis, released a statement Wednesday night offering condolences to the family of the deceased pilot.

“This is a tragic day for the Las Vegas community and the nation,” she said. “I urge the community to keep the Nellis family in your thoughts during this difficult time and to let service men and women know, now more than ever, that we appreciate their service.”

Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-Nev.), whose district includes the base, said in a tweet that it was “heartbreaking” news.

Wednesday’s crash marked the second military aircraft crash in recent days on American soil. On Tuesday, a U.S. Marine Corps helicopter crashed during exercises along the U.S.-Mexico border in California. Four members of that flight crew were killed.


Twitter: @davemontero


10:20 p.m.: This article has been updated with information about the pilot and the Thunderbirds.

This article was originally published at 2 p.m.