Thursday morning a Douglas A-4K Skyhawk training jet operating out of Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas went down in the desert. That night an HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter from the same station also crashed. All personnel involved escaped with minor injuries, and the incidents do not appear to be connected.
The Skyhawk attack jet first started flying in the late 1960's and is probably best known for its role in the Vietnam War. It’s a one-person plane that was designated for carrying out air strikes on ground targets. Fighter-Planes.com has a nice summarized history of their variants and service.
Today Skyhawks are used by defense contractor Draken International for air combat training exercises with the U.S. military. Draken was running 10 Skyhawks out of Nellis AFB “to portray adversaries in Air Force Weapons School and Red Flag air combat exercises” according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. This particular plane was returning from such an exercise when the pilot ejected and the aircraft crash-landed in an empty patch of desert.
The pilot’s identity has not been released, nor was the reason for the ejection.
“All these pilots are highly trained. We’re all former Air Force, Marine and Navy fighter pilots that have extensive experience. In fact, he is one of the most experienced pilots in our squadron,” Scott Poteet, director of business development for U.S. Air Force Programs for Draken told the Review-Journal. Apparently it was a former Thunderbirds air-show stunt pilot.
With that in mind, it seems more likely there was a technical malfunction with the aircraft rather than “pilot error” that made the Skyhawk pilot pull out of the plane mid-flight.
The crashed plane was not carrying weapons and did not threaten anyone on the ground. The National Transportation Safety Board and U.S. Air Force Accident Investigation Board are said to be investigating the incident together.
At about 10:00 p.m. the same evening, an HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter crashed in “an undisclosed location in a remote part on the 2.9-million-acre military range north of Las Vegas” according to another Review-Journal post.
No details surrounding the cause or severity of the helicopter crash have been released, but four crew members were reportedly “transported to a local medical facility and are receiving treatment for minor injuries.”
The crash appears to have happened somewhere along the Best In The Desert’s Vegas To Reno racecourse, forcing organizers to re-direct competitors.
The HH-60 is a large rotary aircraft used primarily for moving people in and out of dangerous areas, and that includes search and rescue duty.
Fortunately it sounds like all the people aboard both aircraft will recover from injuries sustained in the crashes, but we’ll know more about the specifics of the situation when the Air Force determines the cause of both incidents.
We’ll update when we get more information.