The commander of the Navy’s elite fighter school ― the Naval Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor Program, commonly referred to as Top Gun ― was piloting a Marine Corps F/A-18C when it crashed in Fallon, Nevada, according to an investigation.
The investigation, obtained by Marine Corps Times through a Freedom of Information Act request, provides little information to the cause of the Aug. 2, 2016, accident.
The plane had no maintenance issues, and the pilot was cleared of any wrongdoing. The investigation indicates that material or structural failure of the aircraft may have played a part.
The investigation redacts the name of the Top Gun commander piloting the Hornet, but public affairs officials at NAS Fallon confirmed to Marine Corps Times that Cmdr. Michael Rovenolt was head of the elite fighter school.
Rovenolt was a former Army Apache pilot who transitioned to the Navy, according to the investigation.
After takeoff at Naval Air Station Fallon, the Hornet pilot climbed to 36,000 feet when the aircraft experienced a sudden malfunction. The pilot conducted emergency procedures, but after descending to 3,000 feet he ejected.
After safely landing in “farmland terrain,” base rescue took the pilot to the nearby hospital, where he was treated for minor cuts and bruises.
The aircraft was on loan from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron VMFA 323 to the Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center, which heads the Top Gun school.