DAYTON, Ohio — A single Air Force Thunderbirds jet on approach to Dayton International Airport flipped over upon landing and crashed upside down as rain and wind gusts swept over the airfield on Friday.
The pilot and backseat crew member were listed in good condition moments following the crash. However, the Thunderbirds have elected to cancel Saturday’s 3:10 p.m. EDT performance, and will decide later regarding Sunday’s show.
The pilot of the jet is Capt. Erik Gonsalves, who serves as the team’s airshow narrator and advance pilot. Capt. Gonsalves was giving an informal familiarization flight to TSgt. Kenneth Cordova, a tactical aircraft maintainer. This is the first season with the Thunderbirds for both.
The two were landing aboard an F-16D Fighting Falcon aircraft in rain driven, overcast conditions with low visibility. Following the mishap, it took firefighters and airport personnel an hour to release the trapped crew members who sat upside down. As first responders arrived, they stated that one provided an immediate thumbs up signal.
The Thunderbirds issued a formal statement late Friday, “The United States Air Force Thunderbirds were conducting a single-ship familiarization flight on Friday June 23, 2017,” said Capt. Sara Harper, Thunderbird 12 and public affairs officer. “Upon landing there was a mishap at the Dayton International Airport with an F-16D Fighting Falcon at approximately 12:20 p.m. (EDT).”
“Our first priority is taking care of our Thunderbird teammates and ensuring future safety” said Thunderbirds commander Lt. Col. Jason Heard. “Both teammates were extremely brave during the extraction and we’d like to thank Wright-Patterson Crash and Recovery, Dayton International Fire Rescue, local police, medical personnel and team members on scene for their incredible recovery efforts.”
America’s Ambassadors in Blue will make a formal announcement on Saturday if they will perform on Sunday. As narrator, Capt. Gonsalves is the only announcer trained to discuss this season’s maneuvers by the Thunderbirds. He announces accurate details of each upcoming manuever in a memorized pattern during the 2017 airshow season.
Friday’s crash was the Thunderbirds second in the past 55 weeks. Last June, Thunderbird 6 jet was involved in a ditching maneuver near Colorado Springs. In that incident, the pilot, Major Alex Turner ejected safely and was unhurt. Maj. Turner still flies with the team as Thunderbird 5 lead solo.
UPDATE: Sunday’s performance is cancelled as well. No word on when the Thunderbirds will perform next.
(Charles Atkeison reports on aerospace and technology. Follow his updates via social media @Military_Flight.)