Seven people at a scenic overlook in California’s Death Valley National Park suffered injuries after a U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet crashed on Wednesday, officials said.
Aviation enthusiasts routinely come to see military fighters flying low through what has unofficially been dubbed Star Wars Canyon.
Debris was scattered across the canyon as a dark billow of smoke went up from the crash site. A search was underway for the pilot, according to the Navy.
Local media reported that seven park visitors sustained minor injuries that included burns and cuts from flying debris after the Navy jet crashed and exploded.
One injured tourist told KABC he was taking photos when the jet appeared into view and suddenly crashed into the canyon wall.
Officially known as Rainbow Canyon, the spot, about 150 miles north of Los Angeles, is a popular plane-spotting location as military fighters fly almost daily at high speed through the deep, narrow pass, coming so close that visitors almost feel they can reach out and touch the jets.
The canyon received its nickname because it recalls the home planet of Luke Skywalker from the “Star Wars” film franchise. It has been used for low-level military flight training since World War II.
A second jet that was trailing the downed F/A-18 pulled up and began circling, according to local media reports. Witnesses reported they did not see the pilot eject before the impact.
The jets were from Fighter Squadron VFA-151 stationed at Lemoore, California, and attached to the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis, according to the Navy, which is investigating the cause of the crash.