The June crash which took the life of Blue Angels pilot Capt. Jeff Kuss was the result of pilot error, according to a report released this week by U.S. Navy officials.
The crash in Smyrna, Tenn. led to a month-long stand-down for the Blue Angels, the Navy’s flight demonstration squadron. The team resumed its performance schedule on July 2 in Traverse City, Mich.
A three-month investigation by Navy officials found that Kuss was flying too fast and too low when he lost control of the aircraft. Weather and fatigue also contributed to the crash, the report said. Kuss, a married father of two, joined the Blue Angels in September 2014 and at the time of his death had accumulated more than 1,400 flight hours and 175 carrier-arrested landings.
“During the execution of a ‘Split S’ maneuver, Captain Kuss deviated from approved procedures which, compounded by several tactical errors and loss of situational awareness created a rate of descent during that maneuver that could not be arrested and resulted in ground impact,” wrote Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker, Commander of U.S. Naval Air Forces Pacific.
Several indicators suggested Kuss was fatigued, the report said, including his failure to sign his “A sheet” and turn on his responder before the flight, both of which were out-of-character. Low clouds near the team’s flight path may also have contributed to Kuss’ decision to initiative the maneuver below the normal altitude, investigators said.
The report’s findings could lead to changes for the Blue Angels team and flight demonstrations. Effective immediately, Shoemaker has directed the “Split S” maneuver no longer be performed by the team until further notice, and that a higher-altitude safety buffer be adopted for all remaining performances this season. Shoemaker also directed changes to radio communications and recovery procedures.