Air National Guard Pilot Killed in Ukrainian Fighter Jet Crash

A Sukhoi Su-27 takes off from Starokostiantyniv Air Base, Ukraine, Oct. 9, 2018 as part of the Clear Sky 2018 exercise. (U.S. Air National Guard photo/Charles Vaughn)
A Sukhoi Su-27 takes off from Starokostiantyniv Air Base, Ukraine, Oct. 9, 2018 as part of the Clear Sky 2018 exercise. (U.S. Air National Guard photo/Charles Vaughn)

A U.S. Air National Guardsman and a Ukrainian pilot were killed when an Su-27UB Flanker-C fighter crashed in Ukraine's Khmelnytskyi region during Exercise Clear Sky, the U.S. Air Force confirmed Wednesday.

The airman involved in the crash was a member of the California Air National Guard's 144th Fighter Wing, U.S. Air Forces Europe-Africa said in a release.

The airman was with the Ukrainian pilot in the twin-seat Su-27 for a familiarization flight; no other aircraft were involved in the mishap, USAFE said.

The identity of the service member is being withheld until the next of kin has been notified.

"This is a sad day for the United States and Ukraine," Maj. Gen. Clay Garrison, commander of the California Air National Guard and the exercise director, said in a release. "Our deepest condolences go out to the family, friends and fellow airmen of both the U.S. airman and Ukrainian aviator who were killed in the incident."

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The crash occurred at approximately 5 p.m. local time Tuesday. The Ukrainian General Staff had issued an online statement indicating that both a Ukrainian pilot and an American pilot were on board and killed in the crash. However, the statement was taken down pending USAFE's confirmation.

Clear Sky marks the 25th anniversary of the State Partnership Program between the California Guard and Ukraine.

Hundreds of U.S. and Ukrainian airmen are conducting flight operations at Starokostiantyiv, between Lviv and Kiev in Ukraine's western region, during the two-week exercise, a first of its kind.

U.S. assets participating include six F-15C Eagles from the 144th Fighter Wing; an F-15D from the 48th Fighter Wing, based at RAF Lakenheath, England; and C-130Js from the Guard's 146th Airlift Wing, operating out of Vinnytsia Air Base.

Pararescue airmen from California's 129th Rescue Wing are also in Vinnytsia for combat search-and-rescue training with their Ukrainian counterparts. Other airmen and aircraft, such as an MQ-9 Reaper drone, are operating out of Poland for the missions, as well as some refueling aircraft.

Officials told Military.com last week that Clear Sky is the first time F-15s from the California Air National Guard have touched down in Ukraine, and the first time the aircraft has been in Ukraine overall since 1998.

Guardsmen from Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, Alaska, Washington and some active-duty airmen from bases in Europe have also been involved.

The multinational exercise involves approximately 950 personnel from nine nations, including Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the U.S., USAFE said.

The latest accident follows an emergency landing by an Air Force F-15 on Friday.

An F-15D participating in the exercise "had a minor mechanical issue in flight on Friday that caused the sortie to be cut short," Air Force Maj. Tristan Hinderliter told Military.com in an email. "The aircraft landed without incident back at Starokostiantyiv Air Base and is expected to resume participating in the exercise this week."

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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