While warming up for a weekend airshow Thursday afternoon in Smyrna, Tennessee, a pilot was killed in a fiery explosion of a U.S. Navy F/A-18, which was part of the flight demonstration squadron known as the Blue Angels.
The Navy confirmed in a statement released later in the evening that the crash, which occurred at approximately 3:01 p.m., happened about two miles from the runway. All six of the famous aircraft which were scheduled for the weekend’s performance were mid-air when the crash occurred, but only the single plane was involved in the crash, with the remaining five landing moments after the crash occurred.
Navy officials have not released details of the incident or a possible cause of the crash, but an investigation is ongoing.
“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,” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said in a statement.
Many of the local residents, like Belinda McGiff, who was walking home with her granddaughter at the time, had been enjoying the aircraft flying overhead before the tragedy. Some, including McGiff, witnessed the accident and captured chilling video of the inferno, which was shared with local media and can be seen below.
McGiff said all six jets were flying together, then two split off, and moments later, the unthinkable.
“We seen a Blue Angel come down real low behind the trees … and then boom,” McGriff told reporters. “A big, big billow of fire came up.”
McGiff said they could feel the heat from the explosion.
The pilot, who was identified as Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss, 32, died in the crash. He leaves behind a wife and two children. Capt. Kuss, who was from Durango, Colorado, served in Afghanistan before joining the Blue Angels in 2014. He had flown over 1,400 hours.
Candlelight vigils were held in Smyrna on Thursday night as residents paid their respects to Capt. Kuss, and makeshift memorials popped up across the city throughout the evening.
The weekend airshow, which residents say is dear to them and a big deal for the community, has been canceled.