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Blue Angel Dies in Tennessee Crash

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USN
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Update: 

The Associated Press says the Blue Angels pilot who died Thursday when his jet crashed near Nashville, Tennessee was Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss from Colorado.

A U.S. official, who spoke Thursday on condition of anonymity, identified Capt. Kuss as the pilot who was killed in the crash. Kuss reportedly joined the Blue Angels in 2014, and had over 1,400 flight hours. 

The Navy’s flight demonstration team was practicing for the Great Tennessee Air Show, set for this weekend.

According to AP, relatives said Kuss had wanted to fly since he was a child. Dolph told AP his grandson dreamed of being an aviator since a young age. And mother, Janet said in a 2014 newspaper interview that her son had "wanted to be a Blue Angel since forever."

It was the second fighter jet crash of the day for the military's elite fighter jet performance teams. A member of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds crashed in Colorado after a flyover for the Air Force Academy graduation where President Barack Obama spoke. That pilot ejected safely.

---Original Story ---

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Credit Mike Spooneybarger, CREO
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The Blue Angels fly over Palafox St. in Pensacola, as part of their 70th anniversary.

Investigators with the Navy and civilian organizations are beginning the investigation into Thursday’s crash of a Blue Angels jet in Smyrna, Tennessee, which claimed the life of the pilot.

The FA-18 Hornet crashed just after takeoff from Smyrna Airport during a practice flight around three o’clock. As of Thursday evening, the pilot’s identity was being withheld pending notification of relatives. There were no injuries on the ground.

“We received a call in Dispatch, that there had been an accident involving a plane,” said Smyrna City Manager Harry Gill. “It was in fact a Blue Angel that went down, and there was one fatality.”

Witnesses say a fireball and thick black smoke from the crash could be seen just beyond the runway at Smyrna Airport and from Interstate 24.

“We were on the flight line along with the Smyrna-Rutherford County Airport Authority Fire Department, as well as the police department,” said Smyrna Fire Chief Bill Culbertson. “So we were on the scene in just minutes. Thankfully, it went down in a field.”

Nearby were a tourist attraction – the Sam Davis House – and an apartment complex.

The other five Blue Angels landed safely. According to the Associated Press, Thursday’s crash was the 26th fatality in the Blue Angel’s 70-year history -- and the first since 2007, when Lt. Commander Kevin Davis’ jet crashed during a show in Beaufort, South Carolina.

“Anytime we have a mishap in any of naval aviation, whether it’s the Blue Angels or any of our operational squadron that deploy overseas, immediately a mishap investigation is launched,” said Commander Jeanie Groenveld with the Naval Air Forces Command in San Diego. She says a team will go to the crash site, and look for what she calls “the causal factors of the mishap.”

“Whether it be mechanical, pilot error, [or] environmental factors that are involved,” Groenveld said. “There are extensive investigations, there are pilots, engineers that are involved. The Safety Center is involved, and it takes quite a bit of time.”

Once that part of the investigation is complete – with help from the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board -- they take the facts and data and brief the rest of the naval aviation team on what happened.

“Our hearts and prayers are with the family right now, and the whole Blue Angel family and obviously our whole United States Navy and the men and women that serve our great country,” said Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward. “[The Blue Angels] mean so much to the fabric of Pensacola and the rest of our country, and the world for that matter.”  

The Blue Angels crash occurred the same day as another military performance plane, a U.S. Air Force Thunderbird F-16, crashed in Colorado after a flyover during the graduation ceremony at the Air Force Academy, which was attended by President Obama. That pilot ejected safely.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.