Air Force confirms California guardsman killed in fighter crash in Ukraine
By JENNIFER H. SVAN | Stars and Stripes | Published: October 17, 2018
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany – An Air National Guard member from California was killed along with a Ukrainian servicemember in a Ukrainian Su-27UB fighter crash Tuesday evening in Ukraine during a large-scale military aviation exercise, officials with U.S. Air Forces in Europe – Air Forces Africa confirmed Wednesday.
The U.S. airman was a member of the 144th Fighter Wing, California Air National Guard, based in Fresno, Calif. The airman’s name is being withheld for 24 hours pending next of kin notification, USAFE-AFAFRICA officials said in a statement late Wednesday morning.
Officials said Wednesday they were waiting to release further details, such as the airman’s job, until next of kin was notified.
On Tuesday night, the Air Force said a U.S. airman was involved in a fighter jet crash in Ukraine but did not say what his or her status was.
The airman was taking part in a single-aircraft familiarization flight with a Ukrainian counterpart when the crash occurred at about 5 p.m. in the Khmelnytskyi region, the USAFE-AFAFRICA statement said.
The training flight was part of Clear Sky 2018, the largest aviation exercise staged in Ukraine since the former Soviet-bloc country gained independence in the early 1990s.
“This is a sad day for the United States and Ukraine,” Maj. Gen. Clay Garrison, California ANG commander and Clear Sky exercise director, said in a statement.
Garrison extended “our deepest condolences” to the family, friends and fellow airmen of both the U.S. airman and Ukrainian aviator killed in the crash.
Local residents reported seeing the jet lose altitude as it diverted from a civilian neighborhood, according to the Kiev-based Ukrainian Independent Information Agency of News, which quoted a Ukrainian air force statement.
No casualties were reported among the civilian population, UNIAN said, quoting the Ukrainian air force command. The Ukrainian air force said that training flights of all types of aircraft would continue, according to UNIAN.
USAFE-AFAFRICA officials said the both U.S. and Ukrainian governments are investigating the cause of Tuesday’s crash.
Clear Sky began Oct. 8 and is scheduled to end this week. The exercise involves about 950 personnel from nine nations, including Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and the United States. The goals of the exercise were to enhance regional security and cooperation between Ukraine and NATO allies, and other partners in the region.
Ukraine is not a NATO member but has declared interest in joining the alliance. Cooperation between NATO and Kiev has expanded swiftly since Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.
Ukraine and the California Air National Guard are long-time partners. This year marked the 25th anniversary of collaboration between the California ANG and Ukraine as part of U.S. European Command’s State Partnership Program, according to USAFE-AFAFRICA.
California units were heavily represented in Clear Sky with F-15C Eagles and C-130J Super Hercules.