Pilot killed after U.S. Navy Blue Angels jet crashes in Tennessee

Courtesy: Matt Bennett

SMYRNA, Tenn. (WKRN/KHON2) – A pilot was killed after a U.S. Navy Blue Angels jet crashed Thursday afternoon in Smyrna ahead of the Great Tennessee Airshow this weekend.

The F/A-18 Hornet crashed at 3 p.m. behind the Sam Davis Home, about 2 miles from the runway, while practicing for the now-cancelled demonstration. Authorities arrived within minutes.

The U.S. Navy confirmed the pilot died in the crash. While military officials have not identified the pilot, the Associated Press said it is Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss.

According to the Blue Angels, Kuss is a native of Durango, Colorado. He joined the Blue Angels in September 2014 and has accumulated more than 1,400 flight hours and 175 carrier-arrested landings.

His decorations include the Strike Flight Air Medal, the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, and various personal and unit awards.

KHON2’s Justin Cruz flew with Kuss when the Blue Angels were in Hawaii last October.

The captain’s love of flying and for the Blue Angels was evident in their interview together.

“We’re trying to simulate flying in the formation with all four or all six jets together, or the opposing solo maneuvers, and I was describing that to you throughout so you could get a sense of all the discipline, the training, the timing, the focus that go into the flight demonstration, and man, I had an absolute blast out there,” Kuss told Cruz. “We pulled 7.2 gs on our high-g maneuvers, and I think you got the fact that you don’t feel that anywhere else in our life and it’s very unique and enjoyable.”

The other five Blue Angel jets were not involved in the incident and landed safely moments later.

The investigation will be led by the Federal Aviation Administration and U.S. military.

A vigil is being held Thursday night at Lee Victory Recreation Park at 8 p.m., which is across from the airport on Sam Ridley Parkway. Those who attend are asked to bring American flags and candles.

News 2 learned the flight team will no longer participate in the Great Tennessee Airshow being held at the Smyra airport this weekend in the wake of the pilot’s death.

Admiral John Richardson, Chief of Naval Operations said Friday, “My thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of the Blue Angels after this tragic loss. I know that the Navy and Marine Corps Team is with me. We will investigate this accident fully and do all we can to prevent similar incidents in the future.”

Nashville Mayor Megan Barry said she was shocked and saddened to learn of the pilot’s death just hours after they flew over downtown Nashville.

“The Blue Angels have served to inspire and instill national pride in men, women, and children throughout our country. I have ordered the Metro Courthouse and Korean Veterans Memorial Bridge to be lit yellow and blue tomorrow night in honor of the life and service of this brave pilot,” Mayor Barry continued.

Senator Bob Corker also released a statement, saying,”My prayers are with the Blue Angels and the family of Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss. We are forever grateful for his service at home and abroad.”

Around 1,300 people were without power after the jet reportedly clipped some power lines during the crash, which also caused small “burn areas,” according to Smyrna Fire Chief Bill Culbertson. Power was restored after about an hour.

News 2 learned Hunter Hayes was set to fly with the Blue Angels on Friday. His publicist said the crash happened right in front of them, but he was not injured.

Our own Samantha Fisher flew with the flight team on Wednesday ahead of their performance at the Great Tennessee Airshow on June 4 and 5.

Another military jet crashed in Colorado on Friday after flying over the Air Force Academy’s graduation. In that case, the pilot was able to eject from the plane ahead of the accident.

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