Air Force Thunderbird Crashes After USAFA Demonstration

Jun 2, 2016

An Air Force Thunderbird F-16 jet crash landed in a field after its demonstration at the Air Force Academy graduation ceremony
Credit El Paso County Sheriff's Dept.

An F-16 with the Air Force Thunderbirds crashed Thursday afternoon after the group's demonstration at the Air Force Academy commencement ceremony. 

Just beyond the guard rail sits the downed F-16 Thunderbird.
Credit Andrea Chalfin / KRCC

Pilot Major Alex Turner ejected safely before the jet landed in an empty field near the Peterson Air Force Base.  He was taken in for a precautionary medical examination. 

Lt. Col. Christopher Hammond commands the Air Force Thunderbirds.  Hammond says Turner has upwards of 1500 hours in the F-16, though this tour is his first as a pilot of a Thunderbird.

"This is his first show season," says Hammond of Turner.  "He's already conducted, or been a part of, 22 shows this year."

Hammond says during the incident, Major Turner made a conscious decision to maneuver away from local residences.

"The indications that we see there, radio-wise, was that he did have an issue with the aircraft," said Hammond.  "And that he was getting out of the aircraft, and that also, he was maneuvering his aircraft away from a local residence."

Hammond says everything at the Air Force Academy graduation went as planned, and Turner was preparing for landing at Peterson Air Force Base with his landing gear already down when the incident occurred. 

RC Smith, Deputy Chief Operations with the El Paso County Office of Emergency Management, says they train with military partners in the region for incidents like this.

"It doesn't happen by accident," says Smith, indicating the recovery effort.  "These are extremely resource intense operations, and that's what it takes, to make sure we get the pilot, we secure the plane and we protect the community."

President Barak Obama, who delivered the commencement address at the Air Force Academy earlier, met with Turner. 

Hammond says the team will stand down for a period of time; the next show site is supposed to be in New Mexico, but it's undetermined if the Thunderbirds will be able to perform.

The last crash the Thunderbirds incurred was in 2003 in Idaho, according to Hammond.

An official investigation into the incident could take up to three months, conducted by the Air Force, in coordination with the National Transportation Advisory Board and the Federal Aviation Administration.

No one on the ground was hurt.