UPDATE 7:45 PM: The AP reports that rescuers have called off their search of the Pacific Ocean for a Navy fighter pilot whose jet was one of two that crashed west of Wake Island. The Navy said Saturday that it presumes the pilot is dead after failing to find him during a 36-hour search.
Search and rescue teams continue to look for a US Navy pilot missing since Thursday when two F/A-18C Hornet jets crashed into the western Pacific Ocean.
Navy officials have yet to say anything about the cause of the accident, although several news sources report that it was a mid-air collision between the two fighter aircraft, which were on a training flight about 300 miles west of Wake Island.
One pilot ejected from his aircraft and was quickly recovered by rescue helicopter and returned to the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, where he received medical treatment and was reported to be in fair condition. Neither aircraft was recovered.
As the investigation continues, that pilot’s account of events, along with any recorded radio transmissions, will provide the best information available. Weather and other flying conditions apparently were not a factor in the crash, which occurred in daylight at 5:40 pm local time.
The search for the second pilot includes a guided-missile cruiser, a guided-missile destroyer, and Navy helicopters. There was no sign of the missing pilot or the jets in the water as of Saturday afternoon, Joshua Karsten, a public affairs officer for the US 7th Fleet, told the Associated Press.
Assigned to the US 7th Fleet, the USS Carl Vinson and Carrier Air Wing 17 left Naval Station Coronado, Calif., on Aug. 22 for a nine-month deployment. The F/A-18C jets were from two squadrons based at Naval Air Station Lemoore in California's San Joaquin Valley.
The carrier is in the vicinity of Guam in support of Exercise Valiant Shield 2014, which starts on Monday and will run until Sept. 23. The 180,000-troop exercise includes elements of the US Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps.
The F/A-18C is a twin-engine, single-seat strike fighter, designed to function both as a fighter engaging enemy aircraft and as an attack aircraft bombing ground targets. Hornets are capable of flying at speeds greater than Mach 1.7 and altitudes of more than 50,000 feet, according to the Navy. F-18s, which are highly maneuverable, are flown by the Blue Angels, the Navy’s flight demonstration team.
While Blue Angels formation flying is unique, with wing separation measured in inches, all naval aviators regularly fly in close formation.
Military pilots also practice air combat maneuvers – “dog fighting” or “hassling” – as depicted in the movie “Top Gun.” Often those start with a head-on pass at high speed to ensure that neither pilot has the advantage when the fight begins.
Deployed since the late 1980s, Hornet C models have flown in every aerial combat situation involving the US since that time. Although several have been lost in accidents over the years, it is a durable and reliable aircraft.
In March, a US Marine Corps F/A-18C pilot was killed when the aircraft crashed in mountainous, remote terrain near a military bombing range in Fallon, Nev.
In April, 2012, a two-seat Navy F/A-18D experienced a mechanical failure and crashed in Virginia Beach, Va., shortly after take-off, damaging or destroying some 40 apartment units. Seven people were injured, but none seriously – including the two pilots.