The U.S. Navy told TheBlaze that the Marine Corps jet that crashed Saturday was part of the Top Gun training course.
“It was a training flight as part of the Top Gun course that’s operated by the Naval Strike and Air Warfare center,” said Navy spokesman Cmdr. Kevin Stephens.
The F/A-18C, a single-seat jet, crashed at approximately 3 p.m. Pacific time Saturday, roughly 70 miles east of Naval Air Station Fallon on the Fallon Range Training Complex, a massive swath of land that encompasses more than 6 million acres of land.
The Navy confirmed Sunday that the pilot flying the aircraft had perished. Stephens said the Navy waited almost a full 24 hours to release that information because it was incredibly difficult for the emergency response crews to reach the crash site.
“It took a good deal of time for the personnel from both the Navy and the Lander Country Sheriff’s department to reach the scene,” Stephens said. “The crash was located in a very remote, rugged, high, mountainous area — there was a big snowstorm — they didn’t actually reach the crash site until the early morning hours of Sunday.”
The Navy will not release the identify of the pilot until the Defense Department has had time to notify primary and secondary next of kin. Commander Stephens did confirm the training mission was a day flight rather than at the start of an evening mission.
The Navy initially misidentified the aircraft until they realized the jet was on loan from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron VFMA-323 — historically dubbed the “Death Rattlers.”
“We checked into where the aircraft was assigned, found out that it was assigned to this Navy organization and made the mistaken assumption that it was a Navy plane. Soon thereafter we quickly found that it was actually a Marine Corps plane on loan to the Navy for use as a training aircraft,” Stephens said.
The Navy has already begun two investigations into the accident.
“There there will be a mishap safety investigation conducted, as well as a Manual of the Judge Advocate General investigation, commonly known as a JAGMAN,” Stephens said.
Typically, JAGMAN results will be released to the public after the investigation is complete, but the information gathered during the mishap safety board investigation will be kept “confidential,” Stephens said, “to help ensure we can roll lessons learned into future aircraft safety and flight safety.”
“Our thoughts are primarily with the family member of the pilot who was lost, we are very concerned that the family is taken care of and comforted as much as they possibly can be at this obviously extremely difficult time,” Stephens said, “The services will be doing our level best to ensure that they are.”
According to the Navy:
The Fallon Range Training Complex (FRTC), located in the high desert of northern Nevada approximately 65 miles east of Reno, NV, is a set of well defined geographic areas encompassing a land area and multiple air spaces. It is used primarily for training operations, with some capability to support research and development, and test and evaluation of military hardware, personnel, tactics, munitions, explosives, and electronic combat.
The geographic scope encompasses NAS Fallon and near-by range training areas, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rights-of-way, and 13,000 square miles of Special Use Airspace (SUA). 14 Low Level Visual Flight Rules (VFR)
The Navy administers only 234,124 acres of the 6.5 million acres of land under the FRTC airspace, while the remainder consists largely of public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
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