Thursday, March 26, 2009

Fighter jet crashes in desert

The US military has committed to 183 of the jets, down from a plan in the 1980s to build 750. -- PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE (California) - ONE of the Air Force's top-of-the-line F-22 fighter jets crashed Wednesday in the high desert of Southern California, killing a test pilot for prime contractor Lockheed Martin Corp.

The F-22A Raptor crashed at 10am (1pm Singapore time) about 35 miles (56 kilometres) northeast of Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert. The Bureau of Land Management identifies the area as Harper Dry Lake, a vast and empty expanse of sometimes marshy flat land.

The pilot was David Cooley, 49, a 21-year Air Force veteran who joined Lockheed Martin in 2003, the company said in a statement. It did not release any details of the accident, including whether Mr Cooley attempted to eject.

A statement issued by Edwards said first responders transported Mr Cooley from the crash scene to Victor Valley Community Hospital in Victorville, where he was pronounced dead.

Mr Cooley, of Palmdale, California, was part of a team of company and Air Force pilots who conduct F-22 testing.

'We are deeply saddened by the loss of David and our concerns, thoughts and prayers at this time are with his family,' the statement said.

Sam Grizzle, a spokesman for Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co, said no additional information would be released.

A board of officers is investigating the crash, the Edwards statement said. The Air Force urged people to stay away from the site because hazardous materials may have been released.

'This is a very difficult day for Edwards and those who knew and respected Dave as a warrior, test pilot and friend,' said Major General David Eichhorn, the Air Force Flight Test Centre commander.

The jet, assigned to the 411th Flight Test Squadron of Edwards' 412th Test Wing, was on a test mission, said Air Force Major David Small at the Pentagon. Small did not know the nature of the mission. -- AP

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