A US Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet jet crashed Wednesday in Death Valley National Park, at a spot known to aviation enthusiasts as Star Wars Canyon, according to park spokesman Patrick Taylor, who told CNN that seven visitors suffered minor injuries as a result.
As a general rule, military jets are not allowed to fly over national parks, but an exception was made over this section of Death Valley when it became a national park 25 years ago. In fact, Taylor said, that particular vista is a popular place to watch military training flights.
The crash occurred east of Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake in California, according to the Navy.
“Search and rescue personnel are on scene and the status of the pilot is currently unknown,” Lt. Cmdr. Lydia Bock, a spokesperson for the Joint Strike Fighter Wing, said in a statement.
“The cause of the crash is currently under investigation,” Bock added.
The F/A-18 had been assigned to the “Vigilantes” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 151 based at Naval Air Station Lemoore, California.
US Naval Air Forces had issued a tweet earlier Wednesday confirming a crash had taken place.
“At approximately 10:00 a.m PST an F/A-18E crashed near @NAWS_CL. Search-and-rescue efforts are underway,” Naval Air Forces tweeted from its verified Twitter account.
A spokesperson for the Inyo County Sheriff’s Office, Carma Roper, told CNN that they were helping to secure the area until the military arrived on scene.
Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake is located in the Western Mojave Desert region of California and is approximately 125 miles north of Los Angeles.
The F/A-18 strike fighter forms the backbone of the Navy’s jet fleet and the Super Hornet variant became operational in 2001.