Air Force investigators are in Inyo County trying to figure out what caused an F-16C Fighting Falcon Jet to crash. The aircraft was part of the National Guard's 144th Fighter Wing in Fresno.
The pilot is safe. He ejected out of the jet while flying over Owens Valley, east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
The pilot, who has about 10 years of experience, experienced an in-flight emergency while conducting a routine training mission over the Owens Valley.
“He was operating between 12,000 and 15,000 feet at the time of the incident,” said Col. Clay Garrison of the 144th Fighter Wing.
The man ejected and parachuted to the ground. Colonel Clay Garrison says his safety training worked to perfection.
“When the aircraft malfunctions he tries to save the airplane and when that's not possible then he saves himself and it appears all the systems in the aircraft worked correctly because he reached the ground safely,” said Col. Garrison.
The pilot was in an area east of the Inyo National Forest, just south of Lone Pine. His jet eventually plummeted into the Owens Lake bed.
“So it's pretty much in a remote area with nothing around,” said Col. Garrison.
Investigators now find themselves in almost the exact same geographical location as they were in 2007. That's when another Fresno-based fighter jet went down. The pilot in that crash also escaped injury.
“The engine stopped operating and he ejected safely,” said Col. Garrison.
We've seen terrifying military wrecks before. Just last spring a Navy jet crashed into an apartment complex in Virginia. Four years ago, a Marine Corp. aircraft crashed into homes in San Diego.
The 144th Fighter Wing says tragedies like those are why their pilots avoid training in populated areas.
“The Owens Valley is a great place to do that because it is desolate and remote. So we can train and it's a safe area in case something like this does occur,” said Col. Garrison.
This jet that crashed cost $21 million. The Air Force has stopped buying these airplanes, so the Fresno base will not get it replaced.
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