Fatal Blue Angels Accident Hours after Thunderbirds Plane Crashes

A U.S. Navy Blue Angels F/A-18 demonstration jet crashed near Smyrna, Tennessee, on June 2, 2016. (Photo by Candice Wiley via Fox News)
A U.S. Navy Blue Angels F/A-18 demonstration jet crashed near Smyrna, Tennessee, on June 2, 2016. (Photo by Candice Wiley via Fox News)

Updated 7:17 p.m. ET

Officials are confirming a fatal crash of one of the Navy's prized Blue Angels demonstration jets in Tennessee on Thursday -- just hours after an Air Force Thunderbirds plane went down in Colorado in a separate incident.

"A U.S. Navy F-18 [Hornet] assigned to Navy's demonstration squadron, the Blue Angels, crashed today while conducting a practice air show in the Smyrna area at approximately 3:01 p.m. Central Standard Time," Lt. Clinton Beaird, a spokesman for U.S. Naval Air Forces, told Military.com.

While Beaird said the condition of the pilot was still unknown, Smyrna town manager Harry Gill confirmed in a Thursday evening press conference that the pilot was killed in the crash. Gill said military officials and Federal Aviation Administration representatives were en route to the crash site, which has been cordoned off.

While Navy officials have said they do not plan to release the identity of the pilot until 24 hours after notifying the family, The Associated Press cited a U.S. official who confirmed that Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss, the opposing solo for the Blue Angels and the pilot of the #6 aircraft, died in the crash. A photo taken following the incident and circulated on social media shows five Blue Angels landed in a row on the ground, absent aircraft No. 6.

Kuss, a native of Durango, Colorado, joined the Blue Angels in September 2014, according to his official biography. He was commissioned as a Marine officer in 2006 and graduated Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN) in Fallon, Nevada, in 2012.

According to his biography, Kuss had accumulated more than 1,400 flight hours and 175 carrier-arrested landings. While assigned to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 312 out of Beaufort, South Carolina, in 2011 as squadron mess officer, Kuss deployed with Carrier Air Wing Three aboard the carrier USS Harry S. Truman in support of the war in Afghanistan.

Naval Air Forces officials said the accident occurred shortly after takeoff, about two miles from the runway. The five other aircraft who were flying at the time were not affected by the crash and landed safely moments later.

The Blue Angels will not participate in the Great Tennessee Air Show in Smyrna this weekend as had been planned, officials confirmed.

The Navy plans an investigation to determine the cause of the crash, Beaird said.

"The Navy is deeply saddened by the loss of this service member," Cmdr. Jeannie Groeneveld, a spokeswoman for Naval Air Forces, said in a statement. "We extend our heartfelt thoughts and prayers to the family of the pilot, and those he served with."

Multiple bystanders witnessed the crash. One who used the Twitter handle @HalieShults, posted images showing a fireball and black smoke at the crash site. She asked for prayers for the pilot of the aircraft and his family.

This crash is the second for a military demonstration aircraft in a single day -- an exceedingly rare occurrence.

Earlier this afternoon, an Air Force F-16 Thunderbird crashed near Colorado Springs following a flyover at the U.S. Air Force Academy. The pilot was able to eject from the aircraft safely.

In that incident, the F-16 Fighting Falcon made by Lockheed Martin Corp. crashed around 1 p.m. in a field south of the city and near Peterson Air Force Base after flying over an Air Force Academy commencement attended by President Barack Obama, according to the White House and photographs of the scene.

The photos depict the iconic single-engine aircraft seemingly intact on a field, a pilot parachuting to the ground and a military utility helicopter flying to the scene. The pilot was in good condition afterward.

"The pilot of the #6 jet ejected safely and is walking around unhurt," Air Combat Command said in a Tweet. "More details will be released as they become available."

Obama was still present at the ceremony at the time of the crash and visited with the pilot afterward to thank the pilot for his service to the country and express his relief that he was not seriously injured, according to White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest.

-- Brendan McGarry contributed to this report.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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