A Navy jet crashed and burned within a mile of the remote desert hamlet of Dixie Valley, Nev., injuring no one but raising the ire of farmers who are upset at an increased number of sonic booms.
Residents said that the Friday afternoon crash was proof that the Navy has been violating an agreement to avoid flights over inhabited areas until it completes a program of buying up all the land in Dixie Valley.
However, a Navy spokesman said that the agreement allows aircraft to fly over the valley, but requires pilots to stay at least 3,000 feet above ground level and to fly below supersonic speeds. Navy Cmdr. Chip Batcheller said flights below the 3,000-foot "ceiling" must stay at least five miles away from the center of Dixie Valley.
Batcheller said he has "no idea" if either condition was violated, but said that the entire incident was under investigation.
The fighter, a $35-million, twin-engine F-14 Tomcat, was one of three aircraft involved in a mock battle over the harsh terrain 100 miles east of Reno, witnesses said.
"They were dogfighting over the valley and all of a sudden this one started straight for the ground," said Tharon Turley, who raises alfalfa on 130 acres of irrigated land.
The jet exploded upon impact, leaving an oil-filled hole in the ground and setting the brush on fire for hundreds of yards around. The two-man crew parachuted to safety.
A neighbor picked up the aviators near the crash scene and was driving them to her mobile home to call for help when a Navy helicopter intercepted them and whisked the fliers off to their temporary base at the Naval Air Station in Fallon 40 miles away.
"She asked if they were all right and all they said was, 'Yes, thank God,' " Turley said.
Reserve Training Mission
A spokesman at Miramar Naval Air Station in San Diego said the plane was part of reserve squadron VF302, which was flying out of Fallon as part of a routine training mission. The identity of the fliers, both reserve officers, was not released.
Turley said the crash came after years of complaints about the disruptions caused by an increased number of flights over Dixie Valley, a scattered collection of houses and trailers tucked between the Stillwater Range and the Clan Alpine Mountains.
She said that members of the Nevada congressional delegation prevailed on the Navy to agree to avoid flying within five miles of Dixie Valley until its land-buying program is complete, but that the ban was routinely violated.
"We don't object to them flying out here but we want to be paid a decent figure so we can move out," Turley said. While some residents have accepted the government's offers for their land, Turley said most of her neighbors feel it is worth far more.
Melba Allredge, chairman of the Churchill County Board of Commissioners, said the base at Fallon, which dates back to World War II, has increased its flights in the last four years as fighter tactics are modernized and new equipment is introduced.