A U.S. Air Force Thunderbird fighter jet crashed amid the Air Force Academy’s commencement celebration Thursday. No one, including the pilot, was injured.
Within the same day, one of the Navy’s Blue Angels crashed during a practice for a scheduled performance. The pilot of that F/A-18 fighter jet did not survive.
There have been dozens of crashes involving aerial demonstration teams, and the Associated Press outlined some of their more recent incidents.
One of those incidents involved a Thunderbird jet at the Mountain Home Air Force Base in 2003. We pulled the story on that crash from our archives.
The following Idaho Statesman story was published Sept. 15, 2003.
No one hurt in Idaho air show jet crash
Thousands watch in shock; pilot ejects safely
Spectators watched in shock Sunday as an F-16C jet, one of the U.S. Air Force’s elite Thunderbirds aerial performers, slammed into the ground and exploded at the Gunfighter Skies 2003 air show at Mountain Home Air Force Base.
The pilot ejected safely and no spectators were injured. But the crash sent a fireball and smoke into the sky in front of tens of thousands of eyewitnesses.
Marc Auth of Boise said at first he didn’t realize the jet was about to hit the ground.
“My first impression was that it was a low-speed pass except that something wasn’t right, “ said Auth, a freelance photographer. “When it exploded, it was surreal.”
The crowd seemed frozen when the jet crashed, said George Avery of New Orleans, who was visiting his son, John, who is stationed at Mountain Home.
“Nobody moved until after they announced that the air show was finished, “ Avery said. “I was amazed how quiet everyone was as they were leaving. It wasn’t until we were walking off the base, I said to my wife ‘I’m actually trembling.’ “
The crash happened about 3:15 p.m., shortly after the Air Force Thunderbirds demonstration started. The jet, valued at about $18.8 million, was the last of six Thunderbirds jets to take off.
Seconds prior to crashing, the jet was flying less than 100 feet off the ground at a 45-degree angle, according to eyewitness accounts. The tail of the jet hit first, followed by the nose. The aircraft burst into flames near the air traffic control tower and slid, shedding debris across an open field.
Avery’s son, John, an airman at Mountain Home, said the pilot appeared to attempt to keep the plane from crashing near spectators.
“He went up and did a loop, and the plane came down. I was saying to myself ‘pull up, pull up, ‘ and that was it, “ John Avery said. “He’s brave.”
The pilot, Capt. Chris Stricklin, 31, of Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., safely ejected and was treated by military medical personnel. Spectators said the pilot stood up and waved to the crowd before falling to the ground. Emergency workers rushed to help him.
Lt. Lucas Ritter, a Mountain Home spokesman, said no details about a possible cause were immediately available, and the crash is under investigation.
“The pilot is just being checked out. After the accident, he was walking around, “ said Staff Sgt. Ryan Bahret of the public affairs office at Nellis Air Force Base, where squadron is based.
Late Sunday, Stricklin was reported to be in stable condition. No specifics on injuries were available, according to Mountain Home Air Force Base personnel.
Stricklin was talking and had an opportunity to speak with his wife, said Thunderbirds spokeswoman Staff Sgt. Kati Garcia.
“We’ve had better days, “ she said. “He’s alive right now, and that’s enough for us.”
Garcia said mental-health professionals have been brought in to debrief the team.
“We have all banded together. We were concerned for his safety, and we were thinking about his family, “ she said. “Of course, we are looking at ways to make sure this never happens again.”
The Thunderbirds will perform at an air show next week, Garcia said.
“Right now we are trying to focus on business as usual, unless someone tells us differently, “ she said.
About 55,000 people were at the show on Sunday, organizers said.
The Thunderbird demonstration was the final event of the two-day air show.