Students at Hardin Valley feel connected to Blue Angels pilot killed in crash

Capt. Jeff Kuss speaks to students at Hardin Valley Academy in April 2016.

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – STEM students at Hardin Valley Academy feel a special connection to a Blue Angels pilot killed on Thursday.

Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss died when his F/A-18 fighter jet crashed in Smyrna. Kuss was in East Tennessee on April 15 for the Smoky Mountain Air Show, and addressed a group of more than 600 STEM students at Hardin Valley Academy.

Apart from the technical aspects of his job, he talked about how flying with the Blue Angels was something he wanted to do his whole life. With hard work and positivity, he overcame his adversities.

“He talked about finding something you love and pursuing what you want to do in your life. And being happy with the path you choose. That you don’t go into college looking into what pays the most. You look at what makes you the happiest in life,” explained Seth Bowers, a recent graduate.

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“He made sure the kids knew it wasn’t an easy road to get to where he was. That he had to work hard. That academic success didn’t come easy to him. So he had to focus his efforts and work hard,” said STEM Principal George Ashe.

Ashe says, following the presentation, it was exciting for him and others to visit the air show, feeling a special connection to the pilot in plane No. 6. When news of the crash came out, those in Hardin Valley’s audience that day certainly understood something.

“He died doing what he loved. You have to appreciate that. Hopefully we can all meet an end like that,” Ashe said, with tears in his eyes.

Even the pilot’s actions, which kept the public safe when the plane came down, was no surprise.

“I thought the fact he chose not to eject himself and he took it down in a safe way for those around him solidifies the idea he’s a true American hero,” Bowers said.

The lesson he got from Capt. Kuss is one the Bowers says will remain with him as he starts college in the fall at the University of Tennessee.

“That whatever career path I take I want it to be something I’m happy with,” Bowers said.

Kuss was married and leaves behind two small children. The air show in Smyrna will go on despite the crash, but the Blue Angels will not perform.

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