DENVER (AP) — A Thunderbirds pilot who ditched his jet moments after flying over the Air Force Academy’s commencement ceremony reported engine trouble and told air traffic controllers he was aiming the plane away from a home before he ejected safely into a field.
Maj. Alex Turner of Chelmsford, Massachusetts had just flown over the crowd watching President Barack Obama’s commencement address June 2. In an audio recording between air traffic controllers in Colorado Springs and the Air Force’s elite flying team, Turner said his jet was having engine problems.
About 10 seconds later, he said, “I’m putting it away from somebody’s house here. I’m getting out.”
The Federal Aviation Administration released the recordings at the request of The Associated Press.
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Turner, who has logged more than 270 combat hours over Libya and Iraq, parachuted safely and was not seriously injured. He landed about a half-mile from his plane and seemed “pretty calm” when firefighters from the nearby town of Security arrived, Pete Smith, a member of the Security Fire Department said at the time.
“I would have been a little more upset than he was,” Smith said.
A rescue helicopter then ferried Turner to a face-to-face meeting with Obama.
News of the crash broke while Obama’s motorcade was returning to Peterson Air Force Base for his flight back to Washington, and emergency responders who retrieved Turner in the rescue helicopter brought him to a spot that happened to be on the president’s route back to Air Force One.
There was no obvious sign of trouble with any of the jets during the Thunderbirds’ traditional performance over the commencement ceremony near Colorado Springs. Lt. Col. Christopher Hammond, commander of the Thunderbirds, said shortly after the crash that the problem happened after Turner put the landing gear down.
The jet, which remained largely intact, skidded a few hundred yards across a grassy field before coming to rest on its belly.
The Thunderbirds temporarily canceled airshows after the crash.
Associated Press writer P. Solomon Banda contributed to this report.