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A Thunderbird pilot was able to parachute to safety after aircraft issues caused his jet to go down in the Security-Widefield area Thursday afternoon.
The crash happened immediately following the annual Thunderbird performance at the Air Force Academy graduation. Witnesses say the plane landed in a field near the Powers and Fontaine intersection, across the street from First Baptist Church-Peaceful Valley. The field is owned by El Paso County.
The aircraft was on its final approach to the Colorado Springs Airport, according to Peterson Air Force Base spokesperson Jeff Bohn.
"The indication that we have that we received there radio-wise is that he did have an issue with the aircraft and that he was getting out of the aircraft," Thunderbirds spokesperson Christopher Hammond said.
Hammond said the pilot was close to a residential area when he started having problems.
"He made a conscious effort to maneuver his aircraft away from neighborhoods," he said.
Debbie Cooper had pulled over near Powers and Fontaine to take pictures of the Thunderbirds for her grandsons when she noticed something wasn't quite right.
Took a few [photos] from way up high, got back in the car and started on the road again...then I saw a parachute come down," Debbie Cooper told 11 News. "I thought, 'this is really strange that this is happening,' so I pulled over again, took a picture of the pilot coming down -- and then from a distance I saw the plane out in the field."
Her pictures show the pilot safely following his aircraft via parachute to the ground below.
"I was just really scared for the pilot and the accident itself," Cooper told 11 News. "I didn't know there was only one pilot in the plane, so I was really concerned that there was somebody else in the plane on the field."
The pilot, identified as Maj. Alex Turner, was able to land the jet intact -- despite ejecting.
"It was slow speed, it was close to the ground [prior to crashing]...it looks like it impacted the ground, skidded a bit...it was a total aircraft [after landing]," Hammond said.
"I think it is a testament to the exceptional pilotism of our Air Force Thunderbird pilot," Bohn said.
Indeed, according to a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, who spoke with our partners at The Gazette, Turner made three critical decisions to save his life and others -- recognize his jet was malfunctioning, steer it away from houses and eject -- in the span of two or three seconds.
The National Transportation Safety Board is an independent Federal agency charged by Congress with investigating every civil aviation accident the United States. The NTSB determines the probable cause of the accidents and issues safety recommendations aimed at preventing future accidents. In addition, the NTSB carries out special studies concerning transportation safety and coordinates the resources of the Federal Government and other organizations to provide assistance to victims and their family members impacted by major transportation disasters.
- U.S.A.F. AIRCRAFT ACCIDENT INVESTIGATION BOARD REPORT
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