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

Credit: Zach Kent

SMYRNA, Tenn. (WKRN) – A pilot was killed after a U.S. Navy Blue Angels jet crashed Thursday afternoon in Smyrna ahead of their weekend airshow at the city’s airport.

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

Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss (Courtesy: U.S. Navy Blue Angels)
Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss (Courtesy: U.S. Navy Blue Angels)

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.

PHOTOS: U.S. Navy Blue Angels jet crash

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

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.

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.

RELATED: Blue Angels pilot killed in crash flew with Calif. reporter in October

News 2 spoke with witness Paula Payne who said the jet sounded louder than normal shorty before the crash.

(Courtesy: Douglas Dobbs)
(Courtesy: Douglas Dobbs)

“I looked out the window and heard the planes maneuvering again. I looked out the window and saw one straight out here come down, hit the ground, and explode,” she said.

Becca Burgess said she had been hearing the jets all day and noticed one was flying particularly low.

“I looked up and saw it coming down and I thought maybe they were doing dips … Then I saw a huge ball of orange fire, and I’m like, ‘Oh my god, he’s crashed,’” she explained. “I cried. I mean, the first thought was fear for the pilot.”

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.

News 2 reporter Samantha Fisher flew with the flight team on Wednesday ahead of their performance at the Great Tennessee Airshow on June 4 and 5. It’s unclear if the crash will affect the show.

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