The U.S. Air Force and Ukrainian defense ministry have confirmed that a fighter aircraft crashed October 16, killing two pilots and leading to speculation that one of the dead is a U.S service member. The crash took place at Clear Skies 2018, an exercise featuring the militaries of nine nations and more than 50 aircraft.
The aircraft crash took place at 5 p.m. local time in Ukraine, and appears to have involved a Su-27UB, a two-seater combat trainer/fighter jet. The U.S. has confirmed that a service member was involved and Ukraine has stated that two pilots were killed in the crash, identifying them by their nationality and branch of service.
“We regret to inform that according to the rescue team, the bodies of two pilots have been discovered: one is a serviceman of the Ukrainian Air Force, the other is a member of the US National Guard,” a statement from the Ukrainian General Staff said.
Su-27UB fighter aircraft.
“We are aware of a Ukrainian Su-27UB fighter aircraft that crashed in the Vinnytsia region at approximately 5pm local time during Clear Sky 2018 today,” U.S. Air Force public affairs official said.
The Air Force later updated their press release with another statement. “We have also seen the reports claiming a U.S. casualty and are currently investigating and working to get more information. We will provide more information as soon as it becomes available.”
The Air Force has not confirmed that a U.S. pilot has died, but did say that it is investigating the incident. The U.S. will typically collect all the major details before declaring a service member is deceased, often waiting until a doctor has made the official declaration.
If it is confirmed that a U.S. pilot has died in the crash, public affairs officers will likely not release any new details until 24 hours after the notification of the next of kin in order to allow the family to communicate the loss internally and begin grieving before the deceased’s name is made public knowledge.
They likely will not release much more after that until the investigation is complete.
The incident took place during Clear Skies 2018, which began October 8 and is scheduled to conclude on October 19. The U.S. is one of nine countries involved in the Ukrainian-hosted exercise designed to build interoperability with that country and NATO.
The Air Force said before the exercise that it would send 450 personnel to the exercise with approximately 250 of them playing a direct role. These were mostly maintainers and pilots. Multiple state national guards are involved in the exercise, including those of California, Illinois, and Pennsylvania.
The exercise focused on air sovereignty, air interdiction, air-to-ground integration, air mobility operations, aeromedical evacuation, cyberdefense, and personnel recovery. It takes place as Ukraine is increasing its military capabilities and continuing hostilities from a Russian-backed separatist movement has claimed lives in its eastern regions.