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Va. contractor suspends flights after 2 crashes

Tuesday - 5/22/2012, 4:03pm  ET

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. - A Virginia company that provides aerial training to the military has suspended flights while it investigates two recent crashes that killed two of its pilots.

Newport News-based Airborne Tactical Advantage Co., known as ATAC, temporarily halted flights operations "while we just kind of review processes and take a breath," company spokesman Matt Bannon told The Daily Press ( http://bit.ly/JsMcJD).

One of ATAC's Israeli-built F-21 Kfir jets crashed into a building at Naval Air Station Fallon, Nev., on March 6. A base spokesman in Fallon had reported snow and fog at the time.

The F21-pilot, Carroll LeFon, was a retired Navy captain, former Top Gun fighter school instructor and military blogger originally from Alexendria, according to the Navy Times ( http://bit.ly/yq2LVh).

Last Friday, a British-built Hawker Hunter jet trainer went down near Naval Base Ventura County in Southern California. The military-style aircraft, contracted to play the enemy in training exercises, took off from the base with another jet trainer and went down as it was returning.

Thomas Bennett, the pilot killed in the Californnia crash, was a former Navy pilot who retired as the captain of an aircraft carrier after a 28-year military career, his son Ryan Bennett told the Ventura County Star ( http://bit.ly/JuSxTW).

"No words can express the utter and complete shock the company is in, losing two pilots in less than 100 days in completely un-related accidents, in different aircraft, in different weather conditions and in different locations," ATAC CEO Jeff Parker said in a statement.

Federal authorities also are investigating the crashes.

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Information from: Daily Press, http://www.dailypress.com


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)