Two members of the Navy's Blue Angels precision flying team, including one from Maryland, were killed yesterday when their fighter jet crashed as they prepared to make a routine landing at Moody Air Force Base in southern Georgia.
Lt. Cmdr. Kieron O'Connor, 35, of Burtonsville, Md., and Lt. Kevin Colling, 32, of Castle Rock, Colo., died in the crash, according to Cmdr. Patrick Driscoll, Blue Angels flight leader.
"They are two of the best naval aviators I know. This is a tragic loss to the families, to the Blue Angels and the U.S. Navy," the Associated Press quoted Driscoll as saying.
The F/A-18 Hornet was circling the base under sunny skies before it slammed into a pine forest, Navy officials said.
"They were coming in to land, practicing arrival maneuvers, when this happened," said Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon. "We don't know what caused it."
The Blue Angels had been scheduled to perform at Moody Air Force Base this weekend. During arrival maneuvers, the pilots fly around the area where an air show is going to occur so they can familiarize themselves with landmarks, a Navy official said.
The plane that crashed was arriving with four other Blue Angels Hornets from Little Rock, where the team had performed last weekend.
O'Connor, who joined the Blue Angels in September 1998, graduated in 1988 from Catholic University of America with a master's degree in accounting. He earned his wings in October 1990 and had more than 2,000 flight hours and 295 arrested landings during service on the carrier USS Saratoga, and flew over Iraq and Bosnia from the USS George Washington.
Based in Pensacola, Fla., the Blue Angels travel the country from spring to fall performing at air shows and conducting flyovers. They execute tightly synchronized, high-speed acrobatic stunts, often with smoke streaming from their engines.
Since the Blue Angels were formed in 1946 to encourage public interest in naval aviation, 23 pilots have been killed in accidents, including the two who died yesterday. The last fatal accident occurred in 1985, when two jets collided during an air show in Niagara Falls, N.Y.