SUTTER COUNTY, Calif., Sept. 20 (UPI) — A U.S. Air Force pilot was killed Tuesday and another was hurt when their U-2 reconnaissance aircraft abruptly crashed during a training mission, authorities said.
The pilots are assigned to the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron at Beale Air Force Base in Northern California, the Air Force said in a statement.
Earlier, it was reported that both pilots safely ejected from the spy plane. The Air Force clarified the pilots’ conditions later Tuesday afternoon.
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“We are deeply saddened by the death of one of our U-2 pilots from Beale Air Force Base,” Gen. David L. Goldfein said in a statement. “When we are faced with times like this it’s critical we come together to honor the Airman we lost and to comfort each other in our time of grief.”
The plane crashed around 9 a.m. in an isolated area in Sutter County near Yuba City, about 45 miles north of Sacramento.
A grass fire also broke out at the scene after the crash, CBS13 reported.
The cause of the crash is not yet known, and the pilots’ identities were not immediately disclosed.
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The U-2 is routinely flown at altitudes over 70,000 feet and their pilots must wear a full pressure suit similar to those used by astronauts, according to an Air Force fact sheet.
The U-2 Dragon Lady, which holds two crew members, is a high-altitude surveillance plane based at Beale Air Force Base in California. The 63-foot long U-2R, first flown in 1967, was manufactured by Lockheed Martin. The one-seat first U-2 first flew in 1955.
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The aircraft is part of the Ninth Reconnaissance Wing, which according to the Air Force, “is responsible for providing national and theater command authorities with timely, reliable, high-quality, high-altitude reconnaissance products.”
U-2 flights flew over the Soviet Union in the late 1950s. In May 1960, Gary Powers’ U-2 spy plane was shot down while flying a reconnaissance mission in Soviet Union airspace. Powers was interrogated extensively by the KGB for months before he confessed and publicly apologized for his part in espionage. Powers was convicted of espionage and served in Vladimir Central Prison until February 1962 when he was exchanged in a spy swap.
In October 1962, the U-2 photographed the buildup of Soviet offensive nuclear missiles in Cuba, touching off the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Tuesday marked the second time in 20 years a U-2 pilot was killed in an accident near Sacramento.
In 1996, a U-2 crashed in Oroville, killing the pilot, Capt. Randy Roby, and one person on the ground. Ororville is just 30 miles from Yuba City.