A routine California Air National Guard training exercise came to an abrupt halt Thursday afternoon when an F-16C fighter jet from Fresno crashed on Owens Lake about 10 miles south of Lone Pine.
According to the Air National Guard, the pilot was able to safely eject from the aircraft after reporting an in-flight emergency at about 3:30 p.m. Thursday.
Inyo County Sheriff Bill Lutze said that local authorities began receiving 911 calls reporting the downed aircraft at 3:36 p.m., and dispatched the Lone Pine Volunteer Fire Department, sheriff’s deputies and the California Highway Patrol to the scene to search for the pilot who parachuted out of the plane.
About 20 minutes later, first-responders located the pilot, uninjured, walking toward U.S. 395.
The cause of the in-air emergency that led to the crash is unknown at this time.
“It’s an ongoing investigation, so there isn’t much I can say at this time,” California Air National Guard Public Affairs Superintendent Sr. Master Sergeant Chris Drudge said Friday. “The Air Safety Investigation Board will be on site (today) to begin the investigation.” The Air Safety Investigation Board is comprised of investigators from the Air Force, Air National Guard and civilian agencies.
After locating the pilot, deputies from the Inyo County Sheriff’s Department provided security at the crash site until authorities from the Air National Guard arrived at about 10:30 p.m. Friday.
According to Drudge, the pilot, a member of the 144th Fighter Wing based out of Fresno, was flying between 12,000 and 15,000 feet at an unknown rate of speed when he reported the emergency.
The $21 million jet crashed about three miles east of the PPG Glass building on U.S. 395 in an unpopulated area. Drudge said there was no damage to civilian property in the incident.
According to its website, the mission of the 144th Fighter Wing is to provide air superiority in support of worldwide joint operations as well as air defense in the United States. The wing provides combat support, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to combatant commanders around the globe. The Wing also provides a variety of homeland defense capabilities to U.S. NORTHCOM.
The Wing also provides a variety of Defense Support of Civil Authorities capabilities to the governor of California, including ready manpower, reconnaissance assets, response to chemical, biological and radiological attacks, security, medical, civil engineering and command and control.