Navy plane from Meridian, Mississippi, crashed Sunday afternoon in the Cherokee National Forest in Tellico Plains, Tennessee, Monroe County (Tenn.)
Michael Patrick/News Sentinel
TELLICO PLAINS, Tenn. — Both pilots aboard a Navy training jet that went down in Cherokee National Forest have been confirmed dead, military personnel said Monday.
The T-45C Goshawk, attached to Training Squadron Seven (VT-7), was the same aircraft reported missing Sunday from the Naval Air Station in Meridian, Miss., according to Lt. Liz Feaster, public affairs officer for the chief of Naval Air Training. Military personnel arrived in the Cherokee National Forest early Monday to begin investigating the crash.
The names of the pilots, an instructor and a student, are being withheld for 24 hours after the notification of next of kin.
The crash site is believe to be about 15 miles southeast of Tellico Plains and 2 miles from the Tennessee-North Carolina border near the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency’s Tellico Trout Hatchery, about 500 miles from Meridian.
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A T-45C Goshawk from Meridian’s Naval Air Station was training in the area and hadn’t returned as of 10:30 p.m. ET Sunday, according to a Navy news release.
The crash occurred before 4:30 p.m. ET, according to a Facebook post from the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office.
“Two pilots were aboard the aircraft, an instructor and a student,” the release stated. “Their status is unknown at this time.”
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Helicopters from the University of Tennessee Medical Center and the Knox County Sheriff’s Office flew over the area to search for parachutes but found none, said the Tennessee county’s emergency management director, David Chambers.
Chambers estimated the debris field to be “at least half a mile long” and said pieces of the plane were found on both sides of River Road. The crash site is “probably half a mile from the fish hatchery,” he said.
Mason Boring, a wilderness ranger with the Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards who works in the area, believes he saw the plane fly over the boat ramp at Indian Boundary Lake just after 4 p.m. The lake is less than 20 miles north of the hatchery.
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“He was flying super low and he was really buzzing. He was going super fast,” Boring said, adding that it’s “not uncommon” for him to see and hear jets training in the area.
The McDonnell Douglas T-45 Goshawk can carry two people and reach speeds of up to 645 mph. In April, the Navy grounded some of its T-45 training jets after instructor pilots expressed concerns about the aircrafts’ oxygen systems.
In April, the Navy grounded some of its T-45 training jets after more than 100 instructor pilots expressed concerns about the aircrafts’ oxygen systems. This affected training at the Meridian base.
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Two instructor pilots had told Fox News then that the training jets were averaging three incidents a week.
One former Marine test pilot called the T45 “a solid airplane” and said its history of mechanical problems are similar to those in other modern aircraft that the military uses widely.
The T-45 is an easy aircraft to maintain and has a high rate of operational readiness in pilots training with it, said Bill Lawrence, who also is a crash investigator. Pilots are annually put through training in a pressure chamber to experience the symptoms of hypoxia so they would be able to determine if they were feeling them in flight.
“It’s a very insidious thing,” Lawrence said. “It sneaks up on you.”
Within the past 13 months Meridian Naval Air Station has had at least two incidents involving the jets.
• On Jan. 17, two pilots — an instructor and student — were crashed on a training flight. Both pilots safely ejected from the aircraft and were evaluated and released from an area hospital.
• On Sept. 7, 2016, a T-45C Goshawk assigned to Training Air Wing One crashed in a heavily wooded area while conducting a training flight. The student and instructor pilot were able to eject safely near the airfield at NAS Meridian.
The causes for all three crashes have not yet been determined. The T-45 returned to regular use in July, about three months after the pilots boycotted.
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