[Updated] Witnesses: Navy F/A-18 Crashes in Star Wars Canyon, Debris Scattered In Canyon

A file photo of an F/A-18E of the VFA-151 "Vigilantes". Image credit: U.S. Navy

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:

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.

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.

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.

An F/A-18F Super Hornet flying through the Star Wars canyon. (Image credit: Author)

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.

The official U.S. Air Force guide to the Jedi Transition. (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist)

About Tom Demerly
Tom Demerly is a feature writer, journalist, photographer and editorialist who has written articles that are published around the world on TheAviationist.com, TACAIRNET.com, Outside magazine, Business Insider, We Are The Mighty, The Dearborn Press & Guide, National Interest, Russia’s government media outlet Sputnik, and many other publications. Demerly studied journalism at Henry Ford College in Dearborn, Michigan. Tom Demerly served in an intelligence gathering unit as a member of the U.S. Army and Michigan National Guard. His military experience includes being Honor Graduate from the U.S. Army Infantry School at Ft. Benning, Georgia (Cycle C-6-1) and as a Scout Observer in a reconnaissance unit, Company “F”, 425th INF (RANGER/AIRBORNE), Long Range Surveillance Unit (LRSU). Demerly is an experienced parachutist, holds advanced SCUBA certifications, has climbed the highest mountains on three continents and visited all seven continents and has flown several types of light aircraft.