- The Navy has been training pilots in Death Valley National Park since the 1930s.
- This crash of the fighter jet happened at around 3 pm on October 4 and belonged to the Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 9.
- The same type of aircraft – the F/A-18F fighter jet – crashed in Death Valley in 2019 in an area nicknamed Star Wars Canyon.
This is the second time a US Navy fighter jet has crashed in Death Valley National Park in the past 3 years. Normally military training flights are not permitted over national parks, however, this section of Death Valley where the recent crashes occurred was specially designated as a venue for them when Congress added the area to the park 27 years ago. The Navy has been training pilots here since the 1930s.
The crash of the fighter jet happened at around 3 pm on October 4 and belonged to the Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 9. Fortunately, the pilot was able to successfully eject and was treated for minor injuries at a hospital in Las Vegas and released.
In 2019, this same aircraft, the F/A-18F Super Hornet, crashed in Rainbow Canyon, also referred to as Star Wars Canyon, in a western area of the park known as Father Crowly Vista Point. Unfortunately, this crash killed Lt. Charles Z. Walker and caused injury to several bystanders.
The walls of Star Wars Canyon is made up of metamorphosed Paleozoic limestone and other pyroclastic rock. This combination of rock materials created walls of reds, grey, and pink similar to the fictional Star Wars planet Tatooine, hence the nickname.
It’s a popular place for plane spotters to take in US fighter jets performing low-flying training maneuvers as they soar through the narrow canyons of Death Valley. No park visitors were injured where the crash occurred near Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, which borders the park to the southwest.
Fighter jets speed through the canyon at 200 to 300 mph and when flying as low as 200 feet above the canyon floor, they are still only several hundred feet below observers on the rim. Plane spotters are so close to the planes that they can often see the pilots’ facial expressions, who, are obliging to offer some gestures and signals to the watchers.