Two separate crashes involve Blue Angels, Thunderbirds jets
ATLANTA - Officials said two separate crashes involving the Navy and Air Force flying demonstration teams happened just an hour apart Thursday.
Around 3 p.m., a U.S. Navy Blue Angel jet crashed in Smyrna, Tennessee, shortly after takeoff, according to a U.S official. That same official said the pilot did not eject and was likely killed. The official spoke Thursday on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
App users: Click here to watch the briefing on the Blue Angels crash
Harry Gill, the town manager in Smyrna, just outside Nashville, said the pilot was the only casualty. Some power outages were caused by the crash, but no civilians were hurt.
Five other F/A-18 jets landed safely moments after the crash.
"My thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of the Blue Angels after this tragic loss. I know that the Navy and Marine Corps Team is with me. We will investigate this accident fully and do all we can to prevent similar incidents in the future," Adm. John Richardson, the Navy's top officer, said in a Facebook post.
The Navy said the pilot was beginning to take off during an afternoon practice session when the crash happened. The pilot is not being identified until next of kin are notified. Five other F/A-18 jets landed safely moments later.
Retired teacher Brenda Lewis and her 21-year-old grandson had spent much of the day in her back yard near the airport watching the Blue Angels fly overhead.
She's seen them many times before.
"But this afternoon, something made me really want to watch them," she said. "They looked like they were having such a good time playing up there."
She went inside to bake a chocolate pie when she heard a loud boom. She didn't think too much of it at first because the airport is just on the other side of her tree line and she's used to loud noises.
Then she heard sirens and went around the corner. She saw the smoke rising and police cars arriving. She went inside because she didn't want to see any more.
"I'm always so fascinated by them, the anticipation of it all," she said of their airshow. "Then something tragic like this happens. My heart is just broken."
The Blue Angels flew over downtown earlier in the day. A spokesperson said they were on a practice flight for an air show appearance this weekend.
"We were watching because the event was going on and seeing the airplanes take off at the end of the runway; we lost him over the trees and then saw the fireball," Kyle Germaine told FOX 5 News. "We work in the area close to the end of the flight line."
The Blue Angels F/A-18 Hornet was scheduled to perform this weekend at the Great Tennessee Airshow in Tennessee.
"Mostly we want the pilot to be safe and pray for anyone involved in the crash," said Germaine.
The Navy said it is investigating.
About an hour earlier, an Air Force Thunderbird F-16 crashed south of Colorado Springs just after a flyover for a graduation of Air Force Academy cadets where President Barack Obama had spoken. Air Force spokeswoman Lt. Col. Michal Kloeffler-Howard said Thursday the pilot ejected.
News of the crash broke while Obama's motorcade was returning to Peterson Air Force Base on Thursday for his flight back to Washington. The pilot ejected about 15 miles south of the academy, near Peterson Air Force Base where Air Force One was waiting to take off.
The Air Force identified the pilot as Maj. Alex Turner, of Chelmsford, Massachusetts. He has more than 270 combat hours over Libya and Iraq.
Maj. Turner met with President Barack Obama shortly after safely ejecting safely into a Colorado field.
"The president thanked the pilot for his service to the country and expressed his relief that the pilot was not seriously injured," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.
The Thunderbirds had just finished their traditional performance at commencement for Air Force Academy cadets, screaming overhead just as the graduating officers tossed their white hats skyward.
The jets then did multiple fly-bys over the academy's football stadium, where the ceremony took place, blasting by in tight formations or looping high overhead.
There was no obvious sign of trouble with any of the jets during the performance.
"What I heard was a big boom," said Justin Payne, who was working on wallpaper inside his house when the plane struck the ground. "I ran outside. Three or four degrees to the left and that jet would have hit our house."
Payne said the fuselage slid about 2,000 feet before coming to rest. He said it appeared the nose was ripped from the rest of the F-16.
Authorities quickly cordoned off the area, and a hazardous materials crew was suiting up to inspect the site, said Payne, who added he was ordered to stay inside his house.
Air Force Staff Sgt. Alexander Rodriguez, a U.S. Air Force firefighter stationed in San Angelo, Texas, who was visiting with his family, said he raced from his brother's house after hearing "a few loud bangs" and saw the plane gliding close to the ground before impact.
"I started booking straight for the aircraft," Rodriguez said. "I saw the cockpit was empty and checked for any fuel hazard -- there was a single fuel leak on the right side. I heard a ticking noise that indicated something was still running and I backed off."
By then, first responders from Petersen and Colorado Springs were arriving on the scene, he said.
The Thunderbirds are the Air Force's precision flying team, known for their red, white and blue painted F-16 fighter jets. The unit, based out of Nevada's Nellis Air Force Base, will perform more than 40 shows in 2016, according to its website. The vaunted aerial demonstration team has been performing air demonstrations since 1947.
During a performance at the Chicago Air and Water Show in 2005, two of the jets made contact while they were flying in formation, and a missile rail was dislodged. No one was injured in that accident.
The group was in a diamond formation when a 4-foot-long missile rail came loose from the wing of one of their jets. The carbon fiber object fell into Lake Michigan, roughly 2,500 feet from where spectators had gathered to watch the show. No one was hurt.
Two years earlier, a Thunderbird jet crashed at an air show at Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho as about 85,000 spectators looked on. The pilot safely ejected with only minor injuries.
The Associated Press contributed to this report