Blue Angels pilot killed in Tennessee crash was from Colorado

Capt. Jeff Kuss / WATE
Capt. Jeff Kuss / WATE

SMYRNA, Tenn. (WKRN) – A pilot was killed after a U.S. Navy Blue Angels jet crashed Thursday afternoon in Smyrna ahead of their weekend airshow at the city’s airport.

The F/A-18 aircraft crashed at 3 p.m. Eastern time behind the Sam Davis Home, about 2 miles from the runway, while practicing for the demonstration. Authorities arrived within minutes.

The U.S. Navy confirmed the pilot, Capt. Jeff Kuss, was killed in the crash. Kuss is a native of Durango, Colorado, where he graduated from Durango High School and Fort Lewis College.

The other five Blue Angel jets were not involved in the incident and landed safely moments later.

Admiral John Richardson, Chief of Naval Operations said Friday, “My thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of the Blue Angels after this tragic loss. I know that the Navy and Marine Corps Team is with me. We will investigate this accident fully and do all we can to prevent similar incidents in the future.”

Nashville mayor Megan Barry said she was shocked and saddened to learn of the pilot’s death just hours after they flew over downtown Nashville.

“The Blue Angels have served to inspire and instill national pride in men, women, and children throughout our country. I have ordered the Metro Courthouse and Korean Veterans Memorial Bridge to be lit yellow and blue tomorrow night in honor of the life and service of this brave pilot,” Barry continued.

News 2 spoke with witness Paula Payne, who said the jet sounded louder than normal shortly before the crash.

“I looked out the window and heard the planes maneuvering again. I looked out the window and saw one straight out here come down, hit the ground, and explode,” she said.

Becca Burgess said she had been hearing the jets all day and noticed one was flying particularly low.

“I looked up and saw it coming down and I thought maybe they were doing dips … Then I saw a huge ball of orange fire, and I’m like, ‘Oh my god, he’s crashed,’” she said. “I cried. I mean, the first thought was fear for the pilot.”

The Smyrna Police Department is assisting but is yielding the investigation to the Federal Aviation Administration and U.S. military.

The Tennessee Highway Patrol also responded to the scene to help direct traffic in the area.

Around 1,300 people were without power after the jet reportedly clipped some power lines during the crash, which also caused small “burn areas,” according to Smyrna Fire Chief Bill Culbertson. Power was restored after about an hour.

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