One pilot was killed, and another injured when a U-2 spy plane crashed in Northern California shortly after takeoff Tuesday morning, according to a U.S. Air Force official.
The pilots ejected shortly after takeoff from Beale Air Force Base and moments before the aircraft crashed into a rural area north of Sacramento, according to the Air Force.
Initially, the Air Force reported the crew members had “safely ejected” and were awaiting recovery.
Almost four hours after the crash, however, air combat command tweeted, “There is no official confirmation of status of U-2 pilots.”
Shortly before 1 p.m., Sgt. Charity Barrett of Beale Air Force Base confirmed one pilot’s death. The extent of injuries suffered by the second pilot was unclear.
The crash occurred around 9 a.m., and the pilots were participating in a training mission, according to the Air Force.
The single-engine, high-altitude surveillance jet is from the 9th Reconnaissance Wing at Beale Air Force Base and was assigned to the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron.
According to the base’s website, the wing is “responsible for providing … timely, reliable, high-quality, high-altitude reconnaissance products.” The wing is equipped with U-2 planes as well as RQ-4 and MC-12 reconnaissance aircraft.
The last time a U-2 Dragon Lady crashed in the area was on Aug. 7, 1996, in Oroville.
The spy plane crashed into a parking lot outside the offices of the Oroville Mercury Register, killing the pilot and a woman on the ground.
Capt. Randy Roby, an instructor assigned to Beale Air Force Base, was piloting the plane over the city on a routine mission when it burst into flames, then crashed.
Jerri Vering, of Oroville, was leaving the newspaper’s office, and the plane’s wreckage hit and killed her.
The Beale air base is home to America’s fleet of high-altitude spy planes, and its motto is emblazoned on signs: “In God We Trust. All Others We Monitor.”
The U-2 flies to 70,000 feet — higher than any U.S. military aircraft. It’s also among the oldest. The spy plane was first designed during the Eisenhower administration to breach the Iron Curtain and, as engineers said, snap “picture postcards for Ike” of hidden military strongholds in the Soviet Union. There have been 33 updated versions of the jet that still flies today.
The U-2 is perhaps best known for the plane that was shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960 and the subsequent capture of pilot Francis Gary Powers. He was traded for a Soviet spy nearly two years later, but the embarrassing incident convinced U.S. officials that manned spy planes posed too many risks.
The military now relies more heavily on drones for reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering. The U-2 is set to be retired by 2019.