Thunderbirds jet crashes after Air Force Academy graduation flyover

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- A U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds jet crashed south of Colorado Springs, shortly after performing a flyover of the Air Force Academy graduation ceremony on Thursday afternoon.

The U.S. Air Combat Command said the pilot, Maj. Alex Turner, ejected and was walking around unhurt. The plane crashed in a field about 1 p.m.

President Barack Obama delivered the commencement address at the graduation and met with Turner after the crash.

"The president thanked the pilot for his service to the country and expressed his relief that the pilot was not seriously injured. The president also thanked the first responders who acted quickly to tend to the pilot," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.

The Thunderbirds said no one on the ground was injured and there was no hazard to the public.

Powers Boulevard was closed between Fontaine Boulevard and Bradley Road as the crash was investigated.

Lt. Col. Christopher Hammond, commander of the Air Force's Thunderbirds demonstration team, said Turner, experienced an unspecified problem as he was trying to land after the flyover and ejected.

"He had already put his gear down, and that's when the incident occurred," Hammond said, adding that Turner radioed that he was maneuvering so he wouldn't hit any houses. "He made a conscious effort to direct his aircraft away from some of the local neighborhoods."

Turner is in his first air show season with the Thunderbirds, having joined the team in October. He has flown in 22 shows, Hammond said. Turner has more than 1,500 hours in F-16s and was a very experienced pilot before joining the Thunderbirds, Hammond said.

The crash occurred five nautical miles south of Peterson Air Force Base, well away from the stadium where the military branch's ceremony was taking place, officials said.

The cause of the crash is under investigation. The $36 million jet, an F-16, appeared to be largely intact. There was no fire, but a spokesman from Peterson Air Force Base said the plane was heavily damaged.

"I can't explain it other than it depends on the flight profile at impact. It was slow speed. It was close to the ground. ... It looks like it impacted the ground, skidded a little bit," Hammond said

Hammond added he expects the plane will be considered totaled.

A helicopter carrying Secret Service agents in support of the president's detail was close by and one of the agents tended to the downed pilot.

Hammond said the Thunderbirds crash was the squadron's first since September 2003 when Capt. Chris Stricklin ejected safely before his F-16 hit the ground. None of the 85,000 people at the air show in Mountain Home, Idaho, was injured.

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