Navy pilot confirmed dead in California crash that injured 7 on the ground

The pilot of a U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet jet was killed when the plane crashed in California’s Mojave Desert during a training mission, officials confirmed Thursday.

The pilot’s identity is being withheld until 24 hours after notification of next of kin, per Defense Department policy.

FILE: An F/A-18D Hornet from the VX-9 Vampire squadron at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, flies out of what is known as Star Wars Canyon toward the Panamint range in Death Valley National Park, Calif.

FILE: An F/A-18D Hornet from the VX-9 Vampire squadron at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, flies out of what is known as Star Wars Canyon toward the Panamint range in Death Valley National Park, Calif. (AP)

“The Navy mourns the loss of one of our own and our thoughts go out to the family and friends affected by this tragedy,” the U.S. Naval Air Forces said in a statement.

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The single-seat jet crashed Wednesday morning during low-level flying in what was described as routine training

The crash injured seven people who were at a scenic overlook in Death Valley National Park where aviation enthusiasts routinely watch military aircraft speeding low through a chasm dubbed "Star Wars Canyon." The lookout point about 160 miles north of Los Angeles is popular with photographers and aviation buffs who gawk at jets flying in the steep, narrow canyon.

Officials closed the area after the crash. Park spokesman Patrick Taylor said initial reports were that the injuries were minor.

The crash sent dark smoke billowing in the air, said Aaron Cassell, who was working at his family's Panamint Springs Resort about 10 miles away and was the first to report the crash to park dispatch.

The scene of Wednesday's crash. (Aaron Cassell/Panamint Springs Resort via AP)

The scene of Wednesday's crash. (Aaron Cassell/Panamint Springs Resort via AP)

"I just saw a black mushroom cloud go up," Cassell told The Associated Press. "Typically you don't see a mushroom cloud in the desert."

Cassell said he heard jets roaring through the area and then saw the cloud of smoke.

"It looked like a bomb," Cassell said. "To me that speaks of a very violent impact."

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A jet that was following the downed craft pulled up and began circling, Cassell said. He didn't see any parachute.

His father drove up to the area after the crash and saw a large black scorch mark and shattered parts of the jet scattered throughout the area between the parking lot and lookout, Cassell said. A nose cone from the jet was the size of a bowling ball and the rest of the debris was no larger than a ball cap.

Fox News' Lucas Tomlinson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.