Nevada F-16 Crash: What We Know About Thunderbirds Training Flight Near Las Vegas

A U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds air demonstration pilot was killed yesterday when his F-16 fighter jet crashed near Nellis Air Force Base just outside Las Vegas, the Air Force has announced.

The accident occured during a "routine training flight" at around 10:30 a.m. local time, a statement said. The identity of the pilot is being withheld for 24 hours so that his family can be notified.

The Air Force statement said that "an investigation is being conducted into the cause of the mishap," which occurred at the Nevada Test and Training Range.

The Thunderbirds' participation in the upcoming March Field Air & Space Expo has been cancelled. It is not yet know how the accident will affect the remainder of the 2018 Thunderbirds performance season, the Air Force said. According to the squadron's website, the team was scheduled for a total of 38 demonstrations in 2018, two of which have so far been completed.

Thunderbirds F-16 at Nellis Air Force Base
An F-16A Fighting Falcon from the Thunderbirds squadron takes off from Nellis Air Force Base April 25, 2006 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The Thunderbirds squadron, established in 1953, is based at Nellis and is the third oldest formal flying aerobatic team in the world. Its display team is made up of six of the Air Force's best F-16 pilots who perform all over the country. Wednesday's crash is the first fatal accident involving the Thunderbirds's since four of the squadron's pilots were killed during training in 1982, the worst operational accident in Thunderbirds history.

The squadron's last crash was in June 2016, when an F-16 went down in a Colorado field after performing a flyover for the Air Force Academy graduation ceremony. The pilot ejected and was unhurt. An investigation found that an equipment malfunction caused the accident. A pilot of the Navy's Blue Angels display team died the same day, when his F/A-18 jet crashed while preparing for a show in Tennessee.

Clark County Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick, whose district includes Nellis, said: "This is a tragic day for the Las Vegas community and the nation. 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."

Nellis Air Force Base Las Vegas
Hotel-casinos on the Las Vegas Strip are seen behind fan aircraft lined up on the flight line at Nellis Air Force Base on April 22, 2006 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The base is the home of the Thunderbirds display team/ Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The crash is the U.S. military's third aviation failure in the past 48 hours. On Tuesday, a Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter crashed near El Centro, California, killing all four crewmembers. Earlier on Tuesday, a Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier II jet crashed just after takeoff at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti. The pilot was "in a stable condition while being evaluated," a US Naval Forces Central Command said.

Wednesday's fatal accident was the first failure at Nellis since early September 2017, when two planes crashed within two days. Lieutenant Colonel Eric Shultz was killed when his place went down on September 5. The Air Force's refusal to confirm what kind of plane was involved led to suggestions that Shultz was flying a foreign jet—possibly Russian—as part of the Air Force's enemy tactics assessments. The following day, two pilots ejected safely from A-10C Warthogs that crashed during routine training missions.