Pilots killed in Tennessee jet trainer crash identified
WASHINGTON — Lt. Patrick L. Ruth and Lt. j.g. Wallace E. Burch were the Navy pilots killed Sunday when the T-45C training jet that they were flying crashed into the Cherokee National Forest in eastern Tennessee, the Navy announced Tuesday.
Both pilots were assigned to the “Eagles” of Training Squadron 7, Training Air Wing ONE and stationed at Naval Air Station Meridian in Mississippi, said Navy Lt. Elizabeth Feaster, a spokeswoman for Naval Air Training. An investigation into the crash near the town of Tellico Plains was ongoing Tuesday and it remained unclear what caused the incident, she said.
Training Squadron 7 grounded their aircraft Monday for 24 hours but returned to flying the two-seat jets Tuesday, Feaster said.
Ruth, 31, was from Metairie, La. He had served nine years in the Navy and joined Training Squadron 7 in 2015, according to the service.
Burch, 25, was from Horn Lake, Miss. He had served nearly three years in the Navy and joined Training Squadron 7 in 2016, according to the service.
In a Facebook post, Tennessee state Rep. Ron Gant wrote he was saddened by Burch’s death and felt for his family, which lives near Memphis, Tenn. “He died serving our country, a sacrifice none should take for granted,” Gant wrote in the public post. “Burch, a West Tennessean that excelled in a field that many only dream of … has the designation of American hero.”
The Sunday crash was the latest in a string of incidents that led the Navy to ground its T-45 fleet for four months earlier this year. The service only returned the trainer jets to flight status in August following a series of physiological episodes, caused at least in part by problems with the jets’ oxygen-delivery system, according to a Navy investigation released in July. The Navy blamed the deaths of at least four F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet pilots on a similar issue with that plane.
It was not clear Tuesday whether the fatal crash Sunday was related to that issue.