Editor's Note: The pilot's has been found dead, the U.S. Navy said Thursday..
A U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet jet has crashed Wednesday in the California desert near Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, according to a tweet from the U.S. Naval Air Forces. Officials said several were injured in the Death Valley National Park at a scenic overlook where aviation enthusiasts regularly watch military pilots speeding through a chasm dubbed Star Wars Canyon, according to The Associated Press.
The Navy said "search-and-rescue efforts are underway." The accident occurred during a routine training exercise at 9:50 a.m. local time. There was no immediate word on the condition of the pilot.
The fighter jet was assigned to the "Vigilantes" of Strike Fighter Squadron VFA-151 based at Naval Air Station Lemoore, California, and crashed east of Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, according to U.S. Navy spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Lydia Bock.
A spokesperson for Death Valley National Park told CBS News there was a report of a plane crash near Father Crowley Vista Point and first responders from the National Park Service (NPS) said there were seven minor park visitor injuries. The extent of the injuries weren't made available. NPS added that Vista Point is a popular destination for jet gazing and has since been closed.
"I just saw a black mushroom cloud go up," witness Aaron Cassell told the AP. "Typically you don't see a mushroom cloud in the desert." Cassell was working at his family's resort about 10 miles away from the crash and was first to report it to park dispatch.
AP points out the chasm earned its nickname because mineral-rich soil and red, gray and pink walls resemble the home planet of "Star Wars" character Luke Skywalker.
The base is located some 150 miles north of Los Angeles, according to its website, and is located in the Western Mojave Desert region of California. The installation is the Navy's largest single landholding, representing 85% of the Navy's land for Research, Development, Acquisition, Test and Evaluation (RDAT&E) use and 38% of the Navy's land holdings worldwide. In total, its two ranges and main site cover more than 1.1 million acres, an area larger than the state of Rhode Island, the website said.
The cause of the crash is under investigation.