The U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels flight demonstration team has canceled their scheduled performance at this weekend’s Great Tennessee Air Show after a tragic crash Thursday which claimed the life of U.S. Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss.
Instead, the team will fly back to their home base at Naval Air Station Pensacola on Friday as an investigation into the crash continues near Smyrna, Tenn., near Nashville. NAS Pensacola officials said Friday that access to the base would be limited to Department of Defense cardholders after 2:00 p.m. in advance of the team’s expected arrival at Sherman Field.
Kuss, who was flying the #6 opposing solo jet, crashed at approximately 3:01 p.m., during the beginning stages of an afternoon practice, just hours after the team arrived in Tennessee. The cause of the crash, which Navy officials referred to as a “mishap,” has not yet been determined.
Airshow officials said on Thursday that a decision had been made to continue the event without the Blue Angels. “Our hearts are deeply saddened by today’s tragic and devastating accident,” said John Black, Executive Director of the Smyrna/Rutherford County Airport. “Show management has discussed the relative advantages and disadvantages of continuing the show. After close consultation with the Blue Angels, regulatory officials and the performers, we have made the decision to carry on with this weekend’s show.”
Kuss was in second season with Blues
A native of Durango, Colo., U.S. Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss joined the Blue Angels in September 2014 after logging 1,400 flight hours and 175 carrier-arrested landings. After serving as the team’s #7 pilot and narrator during his first season with the Blues, Kuss moved to the #6 opposing solo position for the 2016 season.
“The nation has lost an incredible husband, father, son, Marine, and teammate,” said Capt. Ryan Bernacchi, the team’s commanding officer, speaking to newsmedia on Friday.
Kuss learned to fly before he even got a driver’s license, his hometown paper the Durango Herald reported in a 2014 profile. “His favorite toys were jets, and he wanted to be a Blue Angel since forever,” Kuss’ mother Janet told the paper.
Before joining the Blue Angels, Kuss graduated from the U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School, popularly known as TOPGUN, in 2012. Kuss later deployed with Carrier Air Wing Three aboard USS Harry S. Truman, flying missions in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. A decorated pilot, his decorations included the Strike Flight Air Medal and the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, along with various other personal and unit awards.
Kuss is survived by his wife Christina and their two young children. A GoFundMe page has been set up for those who wish to support the Kuss family.
— Blue Angels (@BlueAngels) June 3, 2016
Next show canceled; team likely to stand down
Navy officials announced Friday that the Blue Angels’ next scheduled performance at an airshow in Syracuse, N.Y. has been canceled. It’s not clear when the team will resume flying, but it’s likely they will stand down for a period of time, as has been the case in past flight incidents.
In 2007, after the crash in which pilot Lt. Cmdr. Kevin J. Davis was killed, the team stood down for about three weeks, cancelling scheduled performances at two airshows.
The team was grounded again in 2011 after pilots initiated a maneuver below the minimum required altitude at an airshow in Lynchburg, Va. The incident led the team’s then-commanding officer to step down amid a month-long safety stand-down during which pilots completed additional training.
In a statement Friday, Blue Angels commanding officer Cmdr. Ryan Bernacchi thanked fans for their support. “We’ve been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and love that this nation has shown the Blue Angels,” Bernacchi said. “You will never know how much your support means to us.”
First fatal Blue Angels crash in nearly a decade
Thursday’s crash marks the 27th time a Blue Angels pilot has been killed in air show or training accidents since the team was established in 1946, though it’s been more than nine years since the team’s last fatal crash.
Blue Angels pilot Lt. Cmdr. Kevin J. Davis was killed on April 21, 2007 when his #6 opposing solo jet crashed in the final moments of the team’s performance at an airshow in Beaufort, S.C. A Navy investigation found that Davis had likely become disoriented after failing to properly tense his abdominal muscles to counter the gravitational forces of a sharp 6.8-g turn.
Officials react to crash
Nashville Mayor Megan Barry said she was “shocked and saddened” to learn of the crash, which came just hours after the team performed a flyby over downtown Nashville. “The Blue Angels have served to inspire and instill national pride in men, women, and children throughout our country,” said Barry in a statement. Nashville’s Metro Courthouse and Korean Veterans Bridge will be lit in blue and yellow in honor of the Blue Angels.
“My thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of the Blue Angels after this tragic loss,” said Admiral John Richardson, Chief of Naval Operations. “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.”
“The recent events are very tragic and almost surreal. When you live here on the beautiful Gulf Coast we are fortunate to be the home of the Blue Angels,” said Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward. “To hear this news is tragic and our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the Blue Angels. They are such a big part of the fabric of our community.”
Planned event in Pensacola canceled
Pensacola city officials announced Friday that, in light of the crash, a planned forum featuring one or both of the team’s solo pilots — potentially including Kuss — would be canceled.
The “Solos in the City” event, scheduled for June 20, was set to be the latest in a series of events planned by the Blue Angels and the City of Pensacola to commemorate the team’s 70th anniversary season. The event would have featured former Naval Air Station Pensacola commanding officer Capt. Keith Hoskins, a former lead solo pilot for the Blue Angels, as well as one of the current team’s two solo pilots.