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Navy: Pilot Error Primary Cause of Fatal Blue Angels Crash

Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss was killed on June 2 while practicing outside Nashville, Tennessee

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    Smoke billows from the crash of a Blue Angels F/A-18 fighter jet in Smyrna, Tenn., Thursday, June 2, 2016. Officials said the pilot was killed.

    A member of the Blue Angels flight demonstration team killed during practice in Tennessee lost control of his fighter jet because it was traveling too fast and then failed to recover because it was too low for the maneuver he was performing, a Navy investigation shows.

    A report cited pilot error as the primary cause of the crash that claimed the life of Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss while he was preparing for an air show June 2 outside Nashville.

    The report, released Thursday, said Kuss' jet was traveling too fast and too low as he transitioned from a high-performance climb into a Split-S maneuver, a 180-degree turn that involves inverting the aircraft and then making a half-loop to go in the opposite direction at a lower altitude. The plane tumbled from the sky and crashed. The report cited pilot fatigue and cloudy weather as contributing factors.

    The Navy found no mechanical problems with the F/A-18C fighter jet, and Kuss did not black out before the crash, the Navy said.

    An F-16 fighter jet from the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds crashed on the same day in Colorado. That pilot ejected and wasn't seriously injured.

    The report, released to The Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act, indicates Kuss failed to disengage afterburners, contributing to the excessive speed, and failed to climb to the appropriate altitude, possibly because of cloud cover, giving him too little space to recover.

    "Airspeed higher than normal for the maneuver and the lower starting altitude limited decision-making opportunities and removed margins of error for corrections to the flight trajectory," wrote Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker, commander of naval air forces in San Diego.

    Recommendations by the report to improve safety have been implemented. Those include eliminating the Split-S maneuver from the Blue Angels' show.

    Kuss was killed while practicing for the Great Tennessee Air Show. No one on the ground was hurt when the fighter crashed and burst into flames.

    Five other F/A-18 jets that were part of the team landed safely after the crash.

    Kuss, who was survived by a wife and two young children, was a native of Durango, Colorado. He had nearly 1,700 hours of flying time and had served in Afghanistan.