Fallen Angel

PENSACOLA, Fla. - Investigators looked through wreckage Sunday to determine what caused a Navy Blue Angel jet to crash during a maneuver, while the military identified the fallen pilot as a 32-year-old who was performing in one of his first air shows with the team.

Lt. Cmdr. Kevin J. Davis, of Pittsfield, Mass., was in his second year with the Blue Angels, the team known for its high-speed, aerobatic demonstrations, Lt. Cmdr. Garrett Kasper said.

At Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, the site of Saturday's crash, a somber crowd watched Sunday as six jets flew overhead in formation. Smoke streamed behind one of the jets as it peeled away from the others to complete the "missing man formation," the traditional salute for a lost military aviator.

"The spirit of the pilot is in the arms of a loving God," said Rob Reider, a minister who was the announcer for the air show.

The crash happened as the team was performing its final maneuver Saturday afternoon during the air show. The team's six pilots were joining from behind the crowd of thousands to form a triangle shape known as a delta, but Lt. Cmdr. Davis' jet didn't join.

Moments later, his jet crashed just outside Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, hitting homes in a neighborhood about 35 miles northwest of Hilton Head Island, S.C. Debris - some of it on fire - rained on homes. Eight people on the ground were injured, and some homes were damaged.

The squadron's six F/A-18 Hornets routinely streak low over crowds of thousands at supersonic speeds, sometimes coming within inches of each other. The pilots, among the Navy's most elite, are so thoroughly trained and their routines so practiced that deadly crashes are rare.

The last one happened in 1999, when a pilot and crewmate died while practicing for air shows with the five other Blue Angels jets at a base in Georgia. Saturday's crash was the 26th fatality in the team's 60-year history.

The Navy said it could be at least three weeks before it announces what might have caused the crash. The squadron was scheduled to return to its home base of Pensacola Naval Air Station late Sunday.