Freedom of Information Act Request by Tim Doyle
On January 7, 2020, I submitted a Freedom of Information Request (FOIA) for any National Park incident reports (IMARS) related to an F/A-18 aircraft crash that took place at Father Crowley Point (popularly referred to as Star Wars Canyon) in California’s Death Valley National Park on July 31, 2019. I received an interim response, which includes an incident report from that day. The interim response includes 5 out of 6 pages from the incident report. Page 5 is currently in a process of redaction, to protect the privacy of individuals injured in the incident.
Unfortunately, the pilot of the aircraft was killed in the crash. My condolences go out to the pilot’s family, friends, and U.S. Navy service members for their loss.
Pictures of Star Wars Canyon at Father Crowley Point
Transcript of FOIA Response:
(This does not include emails or phone numbers which I have removed. I will update this post when I have received Page 5.)
(Interim Response by email 01/22/2020)
Hello, Tim Doyle,
Your Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records has been assigned tracking number: FOIA NPS-2020-00351. Please mention this tracking number in any future communications.
Your request was submitted on January 7, 2020. It was received by this office on the same date and considered perfected. You requested the IMARS incident report related to a United States Navy F/A-18 that crashed near Father Crowley Point on July 31, 2019.
That report is six pages long. There is information on page 5 of the report that I am recommending for partial redaction to protect the personal information of bystanders in that report. I have sent the full report with my recommended redactions to the National Park Service’s Interior Regions 8, 9, 10, 12 Freedom of Information Act Office for review. It will then be reviewed by a solicitor from the DOI Solicitor’s Office. They are required to process requests on a first-in, first-out basis. There are other FOIA cases in front of yours, so this may take at least 30 days.
In the meantime, I am sending you an interim release, which is pages 1-4 and 6 from the requested IMARS report.
Please feel free to contact me directly with any questions.
Death Valley National Park
Released IMARS Incident Report of Crash Site:
Officer: KEVIN ROSS
Report Author: KEVIN ROSS
Incident Type: SAR
(Search and Rescue)
Incident Status: Open – Pending
Incident Date and Time: 07/31/2019 09:45
Incident Location: CA HWY 190, PANAMINT SPRINGS, INYO CA USA 92328 (FATHER CROWLEY VISTA POINT) (Region: PWR, State/Zone: CA, Area: DEVA)
Summary: DEVA – Father Crowley Vista Point – US Navy FA-18 fighter jet crashed – pilot killed, 7 park
visitors injured – NPS assisted Navy, et. al. with the response, investigation, and cleanup. “Crowley Point SAR” – IC: Ross
Report Author: #2503 SMITH, B.
Reported Date: 08/08/2019 16:06
On 07/31/2019 at approx. 09:45, while patrolling westward from the top of Town Pass, I witnessed a plume of smoke rising from the vicinity of Father Crowley Viewpoint. At 09:48 Park Dispatch reported the crash of an F-18 in the area of Father Crowley. I responded that I was en route from Town Pass (09:55), and arrived on scene (at the parking lot) at 10:05. I made contact with park employee, James Landers, near the Father Crowley restrooms.
Landers indicated that there had been a plane crash down the gravel road and that some visitors that had been near the edge of the canyon at the time of the crash had sustained injuries. I approached the restrooms and made contact with a family of seven (7) Frenchspeaking visitors. I did a quick visual triage of the seven victims and saw injuries consistent with burns/cuts received by flying shrapnel or debris. Most of the injuries were posterior to the back, arms and legs (consistent with running from the blast zone [to which they later admitted]). Areas of the skin on two females were red, with some portions beginning to blister. One young female had a fairly large blister forming to her right calf, and the older woman had some small blistering on her lower back and a small blackened patch on the posterior of her left upper arm/shoulder.
None of the party appeared to have sustained life-threatening injuries. All members of the family were alert, conscious, talking and standing near the restroom during the contact. I asked the seven if any of them felt they had life-threatening injuries. All members of the party denied. I repeated my question, and they again emphatically denied.
I explained to the family that I wanted them to remain with Landers at/near the restrooms, and that medical help would soon arrive to assist them. Before I left them, I inquired if any of them had seen the pilot eject from the aircraft, or if the canopy looked like it had come off the airplane. All of them denied seeing anything resembling an ejection from the plane.
At 10:09, I informed Dispatch that Seven “Walking Wounded” were staged with staff near the restrooms, and informed them that I was moving toward the crash site. I moved east of the parking lot down the gravel road toward the point. About 350 meters from the parking lot, I noticed a small amount of smoke continuing to waft from below the rim. There was also a fair amount of debris scattered across the road to the south/southeast. I informed Dispatch of the location of the crash site at 10:14 and stepped to the rim for a preliminary look for the pilot. I glassed what part of the canyon I could see from that vantage point looking for any signs of the downed pilot. Finding none, I returned to my vehicle.
While walking back to my vehicle, I requested that Dispatch contact Cal-Trans to assist with closing off access to Father Crowley Viewpoint, and also asked them to contact China Lake and inquire if any ejection beacon had been triggered (10:15). I then continued toward the end of the ridgeline to clear the area of spectators (10:16), and also informed Dispatch that they could stand Wildland Fire resources down. There was no danger of an active burn. What little open flame I had seen was just below the rim on barren rock, and was in the process of burning itself out.
At the end of the road I found one vehicle. I contacted the driver near the canyon edge and informed him that he had to vacate the area. The lone vehicle occupant, a male, said that he had arrived ten (10) minutes before, and didn’t realize that there had been recent crash, but wanted to show me some debris near the edge. I followed him out to the debris, and then escorted him back to his vehicle and made sure he drove out. The scene was secure from the parking lot to the end of the gravel road at roughly 10:20.
As I returned to the crash site SAR BIRD, VX-31, arrived on scene. I stood by ready to render assistance. While they took multiple passes over the crash site and up and down the canyon, I walked toward the top of the hill to the south (careful to avoid contact with debris) to glass the surrounding area in case the pilot’s trajectory took them in that direction. Finding no signs, I returned to my vehicle.
VX-31 was sitting down in a depression just southwest of the hill I had just descended. I approached the aircraft and asked if they needed anything from the Park Service. They said that they had to wait for the initial response team to arrive. I informed them of the injured bystanders, and they offered their assistance. I returned to the parking lot with the crew of VX-31 in my patrol vehicle, and assisted the crew in contact with the injured family, which were already in the care of Park Service and Lone Pine EMS staff.
Before the injured visitors were transported to definitive care, I did take one gentleman back to the debris field for a quick look for his phone. After it was apparent that he was unsure where it might be located, I escorted him away from the scene, but not before he described for me where his party was located and how they reacted to the crash. It was then that I learned that they were just to the south of the road taking a family photo when the crash occurred, and that upon seeing the jet they ran away from the crash site into the desert or down the road, which explains the injuries sustained.
I returned him to the parking lot, and he was among those that self-transported to the hospital.
Report Author: #374 SOLOMON, S.