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Report: Pilot error primary cause of Blue Angels crash

Jeff Kuss may have been fatigued
Blue Angels pilot Capt. Jeff Kuss signs a handout after a demonstration in March during the Naval Air Facility El Centro Airshow. Kuss died in June when his plane crashed during a practice for an air show in Tennessee.

Pilot error was the primary cause of the fatal jet crash of Durango-born Blue Angels pilot Capt. Jeff Kuss, the U.S. Navy determined Wednesday.

Kuss, 32, crashed the F/A-18C Hornet about 3 p.m. June 2 while preparing to perform in the Great Tennessee Air Show in Smyrna, Tennessee.

According to the investigation, Kuss was flying “too low and too fast” while attempting a swooping aerial maneuver referred to as a “Split S.”

As a result of the crash, the Blue Angels stunt team will stop performing the Split S until further notice, establish dive recovery rules and speed limitations, and widen the safety buffer between the aircraft and ground.

“The Split S has been part of the demonstration for many years,” Naval Air Forces spokeswoman Cmdr. Jeannie Groeneveld wrote in an email. “All the maneuvers the Blue Angels fly require precision and extensive training; the Split S is no different. The Split S has been removed from the show until a further, more thorough safety review of the mishap maneuver is completed by the Blue Angels and chief of Naval Air Training.”

Cloudy conditions and fatigue were cited as contributing factors.

The executive summary notes that prior to his fatal flight, Kuss failed to sign his A-sheet (a document noting inspection and acceptance of the aircraft) and did not turn on his transponder prior to takeoff, suggesting he was tired.

“Although he might have been able to recover the aircraft after the initial deviations, Capt. Kuss did not attempt any type of dive recovery procedure and he unsuccessfully ejected from the aircraft too late,” the report reads.

The report concluded that despite the error, Kuss was a highly capable pilot and perished in the line of duty, not because of misconduct.

“Cpt. Kuss represented the best and brightest of Naval aviation,” Vice Admiral Mike Shoemaker said in a statement. “His professionalism, expertise and love of flying made him a valued member of the Blue Angels. His loss is devastating and felt across the Naval aviation community. It is our duty as leaders and aviators to stress vigilance and operational risk management to avoid future tragedies.”

Kuss, who had logged 1,686 flight hours, was flying solo. Five other aircraft were in flight at the time of the crash, but all landed safely.

Kuss was a U.S. Marine, husband and father of two. He graduated from Durango High School in 2002 and from Fort Lewis College in 2006, and his family received a wellspring of support from his hometown.

In the days following his death, Durango honored Kuss with a parade and two scholarships were founded in his name.

His body was flown back to Durango to be interred at Greenmount Cemetery.

Navy investigation (PDF)

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