UPDATE: Blue Angel Pilot Killed in Fiery Crash, Identified as Marine Corps Captain

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The Blue Angels pilot killed in a fiery crash in Smyrna, Tennessee on Thursday afternoon has been identified.

Captain Jeff Kuss served as the “opposing solo pilot” for the Blue Angels, flying in the number 6 position. He joined the team in September 2014.

Kuss is said to have maneuvered his jet away from populated areas when he crashed, possibly saving lives before he was killed. Some power outages were caused by the crash, but no civilians were hurt.

 RAW VIDEO: Onlookers Capture Moments Of Blue Angels Crash

“It’s hard to put into words right now, but it’s beautiful that a person can live and die engaged in their life’s pursuits,” said his grandfather, Dolph Kuss, reached at his home in Durango, Colorado. “This was his dream since he was a child, to be an aviator, a flier.”

Dolph Kuss choked back tears and said he was struggling to gather his thoughts.

“It’s hard to celebrate someone’s life in this way,” he said. “It is certainly a shock. Everything in life has its dangers, I guess.”

The crash occurred near a former plantation called the Sam Davis Home that is a tourist site, and it also wasn’t far from an apartment complex.

The Navy said in a news release that the pilot was beginning to take off during an afternoon practice session for a weekend air show performance when the crash happened. Five other F/A-18 jets landed safely moments after the crash.

“My thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of the Blue Angels after this tragic loss. I know that the Navy and Marine Corps Team is with me. We will investigate this accident fully and do all we can to prevent similar incidents in the future,” Adm. John Richardson, the Navy’s top officer, said in a Facebook post. The team is based at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida.

Kuss is a Durango, Colorado native who receiving flight training at NAS Pensacola and NAS Corpus Christi. He has accumulated more than 1,400 flight hours and 175 carrier-arrested landings. His decorations include the Strike Flight Air Medal, the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, and various personal and unit awards.

The Blue Angels Team, via their website.
The Blue Angels Team, via their website.

Dolph Kuss says his grandson dreamed of being an aviator since a young age.

Kuss’ mother, Janet Kuss, said in a 2014 newspaper interview that her son had “wanted to be a Blue Angel since forever.”

The jet went down at 3:00pm in the area outside Nashville, where the Blue Angels were set to perform this weekend at the Great American Air Show.

The crash occurred at the beginning of practice, just after the pilot took off, the Navy said. The plane went down about 2 miles from the Smyrna airport. None of the five other Blue Angels jets was involved in the incident.
Witness Becca Burgess told WKRN that the Blue Angels jet seemed low.
“I looked up and saw it coming down, and I thought maybe they were doing dips,” Burgess told the Nashville station. “Then I saw a huge ball of orange fire, and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, he’s crashed. I cried. I mean, the first thought was fear for the pilot.”
During its history, 27 Blue Angels pilots have been killed in air show or training accidents, according to various reports.

Video of Crash

The Blue Angels crash comes just an hour or so after the crash landing of a Thunderbird F-16 that went down near Colorado Springs.  The Air Force Graduation Ceremony in which the Thunderbirds were flying for was attended by President Obama.

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