Pilot killed in Rainbow Canyon

Super Hornet out of Lemoore crashes in routine training exercise

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Pilot killed in Rainbow CanyonChina Lake and Ridgecrest joined the naval aviation community in mourning when they learned yesterday of the death of a Super Hornet pilot assigned to the “Vigilantes” Strike Fighter Squadron based at Naval Air Station, Lemoore.

“In accordance with Department of Defense policy, the identity of the pilot will be withheld until 24 hours following notification of next of kin,” said Lt. Cmdr. Lydia Bock, public affairs officer at Commander, Strike Fighter Wing Pacific, who issued an official statement Thursday afternoon.

“The Navy mourns the loss of one of our own, and our hearts go out to the family and friends affected by this tragedy.”

Reports indicate that the pilot of the F/A-18E Super Hornet experienced a mishap while transitioning out of Rainbow Canyon in Saline Valley at approximately 9:50 a.m. on Wednesday, July 31.

Immediately following the crash, Lemoore immediately launched a search-and rescue effort, which was supported by Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake and other first responders within the surrounding areas.

Those efforts were called off Wednesday at sundown and resumed at sunrise the following day. At press time, the nature of the search had expanded to collect information that might help determine the cause of the collision.

A number of civilian onlookers reportedly witnessed the crash. Although that number is unknown, a medical staffer of Southern Inyo Hospital in Lone Pine said that the emergency room treated seven patients that day for flash burns.

In last week’s News Review, local hotelier Dan Spurgeon noted that Rainbow Canyon, dubbed “Star Wars Canyon” in some circles, has gained international fame as a destination for tourists who want to see low-flying Super Hornets.

Spurgeon estimated that he sells as many as 1,000 room nights in a year for travelers willing to make the drive out to Father Crowley Vista Point in hopes of seeing one.

Patrick Taylor, public information officer for Death Valley National Park, has expressed in past interviews with the News Review that the lookout has become one of the top attractions for the park — which hosted a record-breaking 1.6 million visitors last year.

The canyon is one of the few places in the world where tourists can view military aircraft in flight from a higher elevation.

Saline Valley is just a small part of the vast aerial ranges over China Lake, which is under the largest contiguous restricted airspace in the country.

Military aircraft from bases throughout the southwestern United States have used the area for training ever since the World War II era.

Pictured: A Super Hornet flies through Rainbow Canyon — U.S.?Navy photo

Story First Published: 2019-08-02