U.S. Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss was fascinated with flying, beginning as a child playing with toy jets.
His passion took him through Beaufort and onto the instantly recognizable flight team of some of the most highly skilled pilots in the world.
The Blue Angels pilot died after a training flight crash Thursday in Tennessee. Kuss was a great father and husband and the life of a room, said Port Royal resident Diana Newman, who with her husband was a friend of Kuss and his wife.
“He was loved by everybody,” said Newman, whose husband, Capt. Chase Newman, attended Officer Candidate School with Kuss and served with him at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. “Not just those who knew him, but of course because of his job.”
Kuss, 32, was killed when his F/A 18 Hornet crashed in Smyrna, Tenn., while preparing for an air show, according to The Associated Press. He is survived by a wife, Christina, a 4-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter, Newman said.
Kuss was part of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 312 at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort before joining the famous flight aerobatic team. He was selected for the Blue Angels from Beaufort in 2014.
Flying had mesmerized Kuss from a young age, he said when he was selected.
“I have always wanted to be a part of the Blue Angels,” Kuss said in a news release at the time. “It has always been a goal of mine.”
Kuss was assigned to VMFA-312 in Beaufort in 2011. In July 2013, he was deployed aboard the USS Harry S. Truman as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.
When Kuss was home, he was a committed father, Newman said.
The two families arrived at the air station about the same time, though the men were in different squadrons, and they left the air station about the same time when Kuss joined the Blue Angels. Their children often had play dates together.
The families last met in person at an air show at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., in 2015.
“This life is already hard, being apart like this,” Newman said. “It’s even harder when all you want to do is be there for your friend.”
Kuss was one of three F/A 18 pilots selected to join the volunteer team for the 2015 air show season. He flew the Angels’ No. 7 plane during his first season, Newman said, giving rides to civilians and narrating shows.
He took over the No. 6 plane and began performing shows.
“Who wouldn’t want to fly one of those?” Kuss said about the Blue Angels in 2014. “There is nothing like it.”
Kuss was a Durango, Colo., native. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps in 2006.
Kuss’ death was the 27th fatal crash for the Blue Angels.
The Blue Angels squadron is made up of 16 volunteer officers. The group has been performing since 1946.
Kuss’ death was the 27th fatal crash for the Blue Angels. The most recent was in 2007, when Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Davis died after crashing during the MCAS Beaufort Air Show.
A Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort statement on Friday said those on the base were “deeply saddened” by Kuss’ death.
“Capt. Kuss was a respected Marine officer and talented pilot, as evidenced by his selection to fly with the Navy’s prestigious flight demonstration squadron,” the statement said. “We thank the community for their support as we mourn the loss of Capt. Kuss.”