Hunter Hawker jet at 2007 air show in Gloucestershire, England

Hunter Hawker jet at 2007 air show in Gloucestershire, England

Pilot Killed in Ventura Plane Crash

Military Contracted Jet Was Returning From Combat Training Mission

A military contracted Hunter Hawker jet crashed in a Ventura County field this afternoon. The pilot, its sole occupant, was killed, and it’s unclear what caused the accident. The name of the pilot has not been released.

Firefighters and law enforcement responded to the crash site just north of Broome Ranch Road in Camarillo — and two miles northeast of Point Mugu Naval Station — at approximately 12:15 p.m. Nearby roads were closed as crews contained and cleaned up spilled fuel, said a Ventura Fire Department spokesperson. There were no injuries on the ground and no reports of fire.

The single-seater subsonic jet was based at the Navy facility but privately owned and operated by Airborne Tactical Advantage Company, or ATAC, out of Virginia. ATAC is contracted by military branches to provide “adversary support” during air fleet exercises, said Point Mugu spokesperson Vance Vasquez. ATAC’s civilian pilots — flying Mk-58 Hunter Hawkers, L-39 Albatroses, and F-21 KFIRs, which are all retired military fighter craft — “play the bad guys,” engaging airmen in simulated combat and jamming their radars to see how they’ll react, Vasquez explained.

The pilot in Friday’s accident was returning from a mission alongside another ATAC plane, said Vasquez, but it’s too early to tell why the jet went down. The National Transportation Safety Board has started investigating the incident, he said.

In March of this year, retired Navy aviator Carroll “Lex” LeFon, an ATAC pilot and TOPGUN graduate, was killed when his plane crashed near a naval station in Nevada. The inquiry into that crash is ongoing, but a company press release says poor weather was likely a factor. ATAC operates in multiple countries around the world, including Germany, Spain, and Japan. It was started in 1996 and currently employs around 100 pilots.

Hunter Hawkers were built in the 1950s and ’60s by Great Britain’s Royal Air Force. Nearly 2,000 were made, serving for decades in 21 air forces worldwide. Only the Lebanese Air Force still keeps them in active service.

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