Blue Angel crash victims identified
October 28, 1999
VALDOSTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Two Navy pilots died when their F/A-18 jet assigned to the Blue Angels' precision flying team crashed in a wooded area of south Georgia on Thursday, erupting in a ball of flame.
One of the pilots had just become a member of the Blue Angels last month.
The plane was returning from a practice for an air show at nearby Moody Air Force Base this weekend when it crashed at 12:20 p.m. while practicing "circle and arrival maneuvers," a spokesman said.
Witnesses saw a fireball when the plane struck the ground in woodland near Valdosta and there were no reports of parachutes being seen.
The pilots were identified as Lt. Cmdr. Kieron O'Connor of Burtonsville, Maryland, and Lt. Kevin Colling of Castlerock, Colorado. O'Connor, who was riding in the back of the jet, became a member the Blue Angels in September 1998 and an active team flier a year later.
O'Connor, who had earned his Navy wings in October 1990, had extensive flying experience with more than 2,000 flight hours and 295 carrier landings. He was completing his first year as a Blue Angel.
Colling was finishing his first month with the squadron and was scheduled to be one of the new pilots next year.
Navy officials said O'Connor was piloting the aircraft which was not flying in tight formation or executing any of the squadron's ultra-sophisticated maneuvers at the time, a Navy spokesmen said. He was in "loose cruise" formation at the time of the crash.
The air show, scheduled for this weekend at Moody Air Force Base, has been canceled.
The plane was the Blue Angels' only two-seat version of the F/A-18 Hornet -- an F/A-18B -- and is a model no longer made, said a spokeswoman for the Navy. In 1997, the last year it was sold, it cost $33.5 million, she said.
The Blue Angels fly to numerous locations around the world to perform each year.
The Blue Angels performed their first flight demonstration in June 1946, less than a year after Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, then the chief of naval operations, ordered the group's formation to keep the public interested in naval aviation, according to the group's website.
Their home base is the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida.
In 1992, more than 1 million people viewed their performances during a 30-day European deployment to Sweden, Finland, Russia, Romania, Bulgaria, Italy, Britain and Spain.
Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre contributed to this report
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United States Navy Blue Angels
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