Thunderbirds pilot told about ‘extreme precipitation, wind shear’ before crash

U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds perform an aerial demonstration for the first time in a decade at the annual Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford, Saturday, July 15, 2017.


By KARA DRISCOLL | The Dayton Daily News (Tribune News Service) | Published: September 6, 2017

The air traffic control recording of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds crash that occurred at the Dayton International Airport in late June has been released.

The crash occurred on June 23 prior to the Dayton Air Show, and injured Pilot Capt. Erik Gonsalves and Tactical Aircraft Maintainer Staff Sgt. Kenneth Cordova. The F-16 sustained significant damage, and the Thunderbirds cancelled all performances at the air show.

This news organization obtained over 30 minutes of audio between air traffic controllers in the airport’s tower and pilots in the crash. Pilots in the F-16 were informed of “extreme precipitation” before the crash, and air control operators also warned that “wind shear advisories are in effect.”

Thunderbird 8 “flying at your own risk. ... Extreme precipitation over the field,” the audio states.

An air traffic controller also instructs the pilot: “T-Bird 8, turn right there at the end.”

About 27 minutes into the audio, the air traffic controller says: “Dayton ground rescue 22 ... the aircraft is off the end of runway 6 in the grass.”

Following the accident, Lt. Col. Jason Heard of the Thunderbirds said there was a “mishap” with the plane upon landing.

“From the Thunderbirds that were on scene … to crash recovery … to fire department … it was a tremendous effort. Very impressed and grateful,” Heard said.

The airport’s fire department already had vehicles on the ground near where the crash occurred because fire vehicles were conducting emergency exercises before the air show.

The pilot had “a lot of experience,” Heard said, with 1,600 hours of experience. “We land in rain all the time.”

The Thunderbirds jet mishap was the first major aviation related incident at the air show since the fatal crash of a wing walker and a pilot in front of thousands of horrified spectators June 22, 2013.

The Thunderbirds are the U.S. Air Force’s air demonstration squad. Thunderbirds put on about 80 air demonstrations in a typical season each year, and the group several years ago boasted that it had never cancelled a demonstration to maintenance difficulty. The Thunderbirds put on a show designed to highlight the capabilities of modern military aircraft while also displaying the skills and professionalism of pilots.

©2017 the Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio)
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