LEMOORE, Calif. (AP) — Rescuers on Saturday 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. The Navy declined to release the pilot’s name pending notification of his family. The Navy said the crash is under investigation and didn’t release any more details.
“This is an exceptionally difficult time for the friends and family of the missing pilot and the Navy community,” Rear Admiral Christopher Grady said. The two F/A-18C Hornets collided in midair about 5:40 p.m. local time about 250 miles west of Wake Island. The island is 2,300 miles west of Honolulu.
“The two F/A-18C aircraft … had launched from the flight deck (of the USS Carl Vinson) and were in the process of proceeding to their initial stations when they apparently collided approximately seven miles from the ship,” the Navy said in a statement.
The other pilot safely ejected, was rescued from the ocean by helicopter and was treated and released from medical facilities aboard the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson. The pilots and their squadron are from Carrier Air Wing 17 based at Naval Air Station Lemoore in California’s San Joaquin Valley.
All other aircraft that were airborne at the time safely returned to the ship. The search for the missing pilot involved the guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill, the guided-missile destroyer USS Gridley, the USS Sterett, the USS Dewey and two helicopter squadrons.
The Carl Vinson strike group team departed San Diego on Aug. 22 for what was announced as a 9 1/2-month deployment. The F/A-18C is a twin-engine, single-seat strike fighter, designed to function both as a fighter — in roles such as engaging enemy aircraft — and as an attack aircraft, bombing ground targets for example. Fifty-six feet long and with a wingspan of 40½ feet, Hornet C models have been deployed since the late 1980s.
Built by contractor McDonnell Douglas, the jets are capable of flying at speeds greater than Mach 1.7 and altitudes of more than 50,000 feet, according to the Navy.