The United States Navy has suspended their search for a missing pilot following the mid-air collision of two fighter jets. The pilot is presumed dead, according to a press release distributed to multiple news outlets, including NBC News.
"This is an exceptionally difficult time for the friends and family of the missing pilot and the Navy community," said Rear Adm. Christopher Grady, commander of the Carl Vinson carrier strike group, in the statement. "We are extremely grateful for the outpouring of support from the community. Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected by this tragedy."
No details were given on what information led to the conclusion that the missing pilot is dead. The pilot was a member of VFA-94, nicknamed the Mighty Shrikes, a jet squadron is stationed in Lemoore, California, according to U-T San Diego.
The halt follows over 36 hours of extensive searching by the guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill, guided-missile destroyer USS Gridley, and helicopters assigned to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 15 and Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 73. The other pilot managed to eject from his fighter jet, and was rescued soon after the collision. The same pilot has since been successfully treated for injuries and released from the ship's medical facilities. Both pilots remain unnamed until family members can be notified.
The two F/A-18C Hornet fighter jets collided after take-off from the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson. The Vinson left San Diego on August 22 for a 9-month deployment near Guam as part of Exercise Valiant Shield 2014, which formally begins on Monday and completes on September 23. The carrier was accompanied by the cruiser Bunker Hill, the destroyers Gridley, Sterett and Dewey, and the two Coronado helicopter squadrons. The exercise includes 180,000 troops from the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps. On Thursday, the pair of fighter jets took off from the Vinson less than 300 miles west of Wake Island, a territory under administration of the U.S. Air Force and located 2,400 miles west of Hawaii. The two fighter jets were scheduled for training maneuvers, according to the Christian Science Monitor. At around 5:40 p.m. local time, the jets collided. Weather and visibility were reportedly not a factor, as it was a clear, sunny day.
The highly maneuverable F/A-18C is a twin-engine, single-seat strike fighter. Hornets are capable of flying at speeds in excess of Mach 1.7 with altitudes greater than 50,000 feet.
The Navy has not commented on the cause of the collision. An investigation, which in part will rely on the surviving pilot and recorded radio transmissions, is in process. The pair of jets remain missing in the Pacific Ocean as well.
[Image credit: Avioners.net]