If you’ve seen a performance by the Blue Angels or the Thunderbirds, you know the excitement that comes from watching planes fly toward one another at top speed and nearly miss crashing in midair, or flying in perfect formation in what looks like just mere inches apart. While the danger fuels the anticipation of the audience, the actual chance of a Blue Angels or Thunderbirds pilot crashing is very low.
However, in a bizarre incident, the Air Force Thunderbirds and the Navy’s Blue Angels were both involved in aircraft collisions while performing their usual specialty stunts on June 2. One jet from each elite team crashed to the ground, the Blue Angels’ ending in a shocking explosion. What are the chances one such specialized pilot would crash, let alone two of them, and on the same day? It boggles the mind.
According to Air Force Times, the Thunderbirds were performing for an Air Force graduation ceremony at Peterson Air Force Base near Colorado Springs, Colorado. Major Alex Turner is the experienced pilot of the number 6 jet. Major Turner has over 270 flight hours of combat experience in both Libya and Iraq, with a total of 1,200 Air Force flight hours logged.
Thunderbirds spokesperson Master Sergeant Chrissy Best said Major Turner flew the jet toward an empty field before safely ejecting from the F-16.
According to the Colorado Springs Gazette, eyewitness Alexander Rodriguez said after hearing two loud bangs, the Thunderbirds jet number 6 was moving slowly downward.
“I immediately knew that it was going to crash. Our first thought was the pilot – I didn’t see him eject at all. So I wasn’t sure if he was still in the aircraft or not. So that was my first thought. I was relieved the pilot was OK.”
The Air Force Times further reports that President Obama was in attendance at the graduation to deliver the commencement speech. He met with Major Turner after the ceremony. A White House press pool report released more details of the meeting.
“The pilot seemed in fine form, saluted POTUS as he approached and then shook his outstretched hand. The two had a brief chat. The President thanked the pilot for his service to the country and expressed his relief that the pilot was not seriously injured. The President also thanked the first responders who acted quickly to tend to the pilot.”
— David Wade (@davidwade) June 2, 2016
While the Thunderbirds crash did not result in injuries, unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the Blue Angels collision in Tennessee. The Blue Angels pilot, who will remain unnamed until family is contacted, crashed the F/A-18 aircraft at 3 p.m., just two hours following that of the Thunderbirds. Sadly, the Blue Angels pilot did not survive the accident.
The Blue Angels were in the midst of practicing for an upcoming performance over the weekend. The Blue Angels had been flying near Nashville, Tennessee, for the majority of the day.
WKRN News 2 interviewed Paula Payne, who witnessed the Blue Angels collision. She said the aircraft was making a much louder noise than usual just before the crash.
“I looked out the window and heard the planes maneuvering again. I looked out the window and saw one straight out here come down, hit the ground, and explode.”
Another eyewitness, Becca Burgess, stated she noticed one of the planes flying lower than normal.
“I looked up and saw it coming down and I thought maybe they were doing dips … Then I saw a huge ball of orange fire, and I’m like, ‘Oh my god, he’s crashed.’ I cried. I mean, the first thought was fear for the pilot.”
— ABC News (@ABC) June 2, 2016
While the tragic incidents with the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds appear to be in no way linked, it seems too bizarre to imagine that this could happen to two of the most experienced, well-trained pilots in the world. On the same day, no less. The separate collisions of the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds are under investigation, and only time will tell what truly has happened.
[Image credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press]