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Navy: Pilot killed in jet collision over Nevada

09:55 PM CDT on Friday, June 13, 2008

Associated Press

FALLON, Nev. – Two fighter jets from the U.S. Navy's elite training school collided Friday over northern Nevada's high desert, killing one pilot and injuring two others who parachuted to safety.

The pilot who died was based at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, Va., said Jeffery Wells, a spokesman at Fallon Naval Air Station. He was at the controls of an F/A-18C Hornet at the time of the crash.

The two pilots who ejected from a two-seater F-5 Tiger were rescued about 50 miles east of the air station, said Zip Upham, another base spokesman. They were in stable condition and being treated for minor injuries at Banner Churchill Medical Center in Fallon.

The two were assigned to the Fallon Naval Air Station, where both jets had taken off.

The names of the three were being withheld pending notification of the pilots' families, Wells said. The cause of the crash was under investigation.

The air station, about 60 miles east of Reno, is home to the Navy's elite Strike and Air Warfare Center. The center was formed in 1996 with the consolidation of the Navy fighter Weapons School known as "Top Gun" and the Carrier Airborne Early Warning Weapons School, or "Top Dome."

The F-5 Tiger is a Vietnam-era fighter aircraft. The F/A-18C Hornet, which was used in Operation Desert Storm, is a fighter-attack aircraft that can carry air-to-air missiles and infrared imaging air-to-ground missiles.

The two aircraft collided about noon near the town of Middlegate, some 110 miles east of Reno, Upham said.

Travis Anderton, of Middlegate, said he had seen the two jets before the crash.

"Then I heard a crash, looked up and saw them coming out of the sky, falling," he told the Reno Gazette-Journal. "Then it was smoke and you couldn't see any more."

Nevada Highway Patrol spokesman Chuck Allen said some of the wreckage landed about a mile from a highway.

The most recent fatal crash involving aircraft from Fallon was in May 2007. Five crew members were killed when their SH-60 Seahawk helicopter crashed during a nighttime training mission in north-central Nevada about 140 miles west of Reno.

Upham, who has served as base spokesman since 2001, said that crash was the worst in recent memory. Over the previous six years, he said there had been four separate jet and two helicopter crashes, resulting in one death.

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