April 21, 2007 / 8:53 PM / 12 years ago

U.S. Navy "Blue Angels" jet crashes

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A jet fighter flown by the U.S. Navy Blue Angels demonstration team crashed on Saturday in South Carolina, eyewitnesses said.

Members of the Blue Angels aerobatic team perform during the Andrews Air Show at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland in this May 20, 2006 file photo. A jet fighter flown by the U.S. Navy Blue Angels demonstration team crashed on April 21, 2007 in South Carolina and a number of houses were on fire, CNN said. REUTERS/Stelios Varias/Files

Curt Copeland, the coroner in the county where the crash occurred, told Reuters the pilot of the aircraft had died.

The show in Beaufort, South Carolina, was attended by thousands of spectators.

“They were doing maneuvers and generally when the planes loop around they cross the runway and then turn around and basically when they turned around we saw a cloud of black smoke,” said Brett Hindshaw, a South African who was visiting Beaufort for the air show.

“We started counting and we saw five aircraft. Four of them landed but the lead pilot circled over the accident sight and then one or two military helicopters took off and went in that direction,” he told Reuters by telephone.

“Then all the ambulances and military fire trucks stationed along the runway took off.”

Witnesses said one of the six Blue Angels jets disappeared as the planes flew low in close formation behind a grove of trees.

One witness, Fred Yelinek, told CNN the jet went down in a high-density residential area and debris hit at least one house and cars, but there was no sign of injuries to people on the ground. He said there was a “huge fireball” at the crash site.

“It’s behind the tree line behind the naval air station, away from the ocean,” said Hindshaw. “We can hear sirens in the distance, fire trucks and stuff beyond the trees.”

The Blue Angels, based in Pensacola, Florida, fly Boeing F/A-18 Hornets.

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