Thursday's Air Force Academy graduation ceremony took an unexpected turn after an Air Force Thunderbird crashed as it was headed back to Peterson Air Force Base. The F16 jet was on final approach, wheels down, when the pilot reported something went wrong.
The pilot, Major Alex Turner, was able to guide the plane away from neighborhoods and eject safely as it went down into a field off of Fontaine near Powers Blvd just five miles south of the airport. No one on the ground was injured.
As of Thursday night at 10:00pm, the F16 jet was still in the field as investigators continue to secure the area and move into recovery mode. The plane appeared mostly intact despite some damage to the front end.
The Thunderbird spokesman told News5 that because Turner was in final descent, going slower and in close proximity to the ground, the incident was nowhere near as disastrous as it could have been.
Turner was able to walk around and meet with President Obama after the crash, however he was taken to the hospital as a precaution. Turner was treated and released Thursday.
"He is currently being evaluated further, some imaging and labs at a local hospital, but all indications seem to be that he is doing well and he's aware," said LTC Christopher Hammond.
LTC Hammond serves as the Thunderbird Team Commander, and said Turner took the correct actions.
Neighbors in the area told News5 they're used to hearing planes because they're so close to the airport, but could tell something was different in this incident.
"I heard the roar of a jet engine, so when I looked out to see if the falcons were out here practicing, I look out and I don't see anything going on. I just hear this just basic after burners and thought that's a little weird," said David Scalfri.
Other neighbors said they recognize the remarkable talent it took to miss all of the homes in the area to land the jet gently in a field.
"These guys are some of the best in the nation and in the world. They know what they're doing, absolutely. I'm just glad it was an open field and not in a residential area," said Jennifer Dalbec.
Although the crash didn't cause a significant amount of visual damage from the outside, the investigators still had to take precautions to keep everyone safe in the area. Hazmat crews responded to ensure the dangerous chemical hydrazine, which was onboard the jet, didn't leak into the ground or atmosphere.
"Hydrazine on a F-16 aircraft, it's about 7 gallons. It's an emergency fuel source, and it's used in the event that an engine shuts down," said Peterson Air Force Base Spokesman Jeff Bohn.
The Air Force did not say whether the $36 million jet is a total loss or salvageable. A recovery team is working on a plan to move the plan from the field, in the meantime a team of safety investigators is heading to Colorado Springs Saturday. The investigation into what went wrong could take up to three months, depending on the problem.
The Thunderbirds have canceled their next show at the Air Force Base in Albuquerque, which was scheduled for this weekend.