BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — The pilot who died after ejecting from a U2 spy plane that crashed in northern California was identified as Lt. Col. Ira S. Eadie.
Eadie was assigned to the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron at Beale Air Force Base near Sacramento, California. The Air Force did not release his age or hometown.
Another pilot who survived sustained injuries that are not life-threatening and is now recovering in good condition at a local medical facility, base officials said Wednesday. The surviving pilot was not identified.
Col. Danielle Barnes, a senior officer who oversees base operations, said military personnel recovering the two pilots found that both their parachutes had deployed. She said she could not discuss what caused the plane to crash or Eadie’s death. There’s no timeline for investigators to conclude their probe.
“They will take as long as they need to execute a thorough and detailed investigation,” Barnes said.
The Air Force said the plane was conducting a training mission on a routine flight path before something went wrong and the high-flying aircraft slammed into a mountainous area about 20 miles west of the runway.
Photos from the scene showed sections of the tail and wing splayed on the mountainside, with much of the aircraft charred and disintegrated. The crash sparked a fire on the grassy terrain, which was quickly extinguished.
The U-2 “Dragon Lady” is a surveillance and reconnaissance plane capable of flying above 70,000 feet (21,336 meters), an extremely high altitude that’s twice as high as a typical commercial airliner flies. Developed during the Cold War to spy on the Soviet Union, the single-engine aircraft now carries high-resolution cameras and sensors to gather radio signals and other information useful to intelligence agencies and battlefield commanders.
Pilots wear pressurized suits like those used by astronauts to survive in the low-pressure, low-oxygen environment in the upper reaches of the atmosphere.
Before the crash, the Air Force said it had 33 U-2s. Most are a single-seat aircraft, but five — including the one that crashed Tuesday —were a two-seat version used for training pilots to fly the specialized plane. Built by the defense contractor Lockheed Martin Corp, the U-2 fleet is based at Beale, with some planes flying missions from air bases around the world.
There have been a handful of crashes since the U-2 began flying in the 1950s. The Soviet Union shot down a U-2 and captured pilot Frances Gary Powers in 1960. Powers was imprisoned for two years before being released in a prisoner exchange.
The U-2 is slated for retirement in 2019 as the military relies increasingly on unmanned aircraft such as the RQ-4 Global Hawk for intelligence gathering, though senior U.S. lawmakers from California are pressuring the Air Force to delay the retirement.