The status of the pilot is unknown. There are reports that some visitors near Father Crowley Overlook were injured. We talked to some witnesses.
Unconfirmed reports are just now surfacing across the Web that a U.S. Navy F/A-18E Hornet may have crashed at “Father Crowley Point” inside the famous Star Wars Canyon low flying area in California, near the Nevada border.
The unconfirmed reports on Facebook mentioned “six victims with minor injuries” and a “fire on the hillside”.
The U.S. Navy has only confirmed an F/A-18E has crashed near Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake:
At approximately 10:00 a.m PST an F/A-18E crashed near @NAWS_CL. Search-and-rescue efforts are underway.
— flynavy (@flynavy) July 31, 2019
Local ABC news affiliate KABC-TV reported that, “INYO COUNTY, Calif. (KABC) — A single-seat U.S. Navy fighter jet crashed Wednesday morning in Inyo County and the pilot’s status was unknown, officials confirmed.
The aircraft was a Super Hornet belonging to VFA-151 Vigilantes from NAS Lemoore, California.
Navy says the F/A18-E that crashed near Death Valley — Star Wars Canyon was from (VFA) 151 Vigilantes based at Naval Air Station Lemoore, California.
— luis martinez (@LMartinezABC) July 31, 2019
A search-and-rescue helicopter was dispatched to the scene from China Lake about 10 a.m., according to Commander Ron Flanders, a spokesman for U.S. Naval Air Forces.
Update: There are reports that visitors at the park have suffered minor injuries from the crash which occurred near Death Valley’s Father Crowley Overlook in an area known as Star Wars Canyon, used by the military for training since the 1930s. More: https://t.co/e83TVoqB1l
— Elizabeth McLaughlin (@Elizabeth_McLau) July 31, 2019
Aaron Cassell, 43, of the Panamint Springs Resort at the bottom of Star Wars Canyon told TheAviationist.com: “An F/A-18 hit the side of the canyon between Father Crowley Point parking lot and The Vista. There is a quarter mile long debris field, a big black scorch mark and a nose cone lying up there.”
Cassell, who was among the first persons to report the sighting of a “mushroom cloud” coming from the canyon, told the Aviationist.com that, “At least six people were injured on the road. Debris is scattered all over the dirt road, all over the vista. It hit pretty fast and hard; a big, fat mushroom cloud, about 9:30 or 10:00 AM.” Cassell’s father drove to the crash scene and reported seeing “Debris on the dirt road on the vista, but not on the paved highway 190.”
Cassell also told TheAviationist.com that, “A Search and rescue helicopter lowered a litter. They closed everything off pretty quickly. I was going about my rounds and saw the mushroom cloud and called National Park dispatch.” Aaron Cassell, 43, lives at Panamint Springs Resort. Cassell mentioned that a second F/A-18 remained circling over the crash scene until a search and rescue helicopter arrived and lowered a litter.
“Star Wars Canyon” (aka Rainbow Canyon) which empties into the Panamint Valley region of Death Valley National Park has become very popular among serious aviation photographers from all around the world who daily exploit the unique opportunity to shoot fast jets, warbirds and also airlifters during their transit through low level corridor: the flight through the canyon out into the expanse of Death Valley is referred to as the “Jedi Transition” and the location is one of the few in the U.S. where photographers can catch military fighters training at low level.
Here’s what this Author wrote about the parking area close to the crash site in a story about the Canyon we published at The Aviationist after a visit in 2017:
There is a larger parking area at the west end of the area called Father Crowley Vista. This is near the entrance for tactical aircraft to the training area as they fly west to east. There are additional turn-offs along the road shoulder for parking a few vehicles before you reach Father Crowley Vista to the east, but these fill early. Nearly the entire parking area was filled shortly after sunrise. We parked in one of these easterly areas at the road shoulder as the sun came up.
The following video was filmed there just a few weeks ago:
This report will be updated as new information becomes available.