Cherry Festival in Michigan Moving Ahead on Airshow Plans

TRAVERSE CITY — National Cherry Festival organizers are optimistic the U.S. Navy Blue Angels will streak through the skies over the Grand Traverse region despite uncertainty following a recent crash.

Organizers are moving forward on plans to host the Blue Angels during the cherry festival's air show after several of their performances were canceled following a crash that killed Marine pilot Capt. Jeff Kuss on Thursday.

"We're proceeding as planned — we have an action plan that we work through with the Blue Angels team," said National Cherry Festival Executive Director Trevor Tkach. "We're at our 30-day checkpoint and we're in regular communication with (the Blue Angels) until we hear otherwise. We have the site ready for them."

The airshow will go on with or without the Blue Angels, Tkach said. The Blue Angels have been scheduled to perform since 2014 and it takes nearly two years of preparation and coordination for the show. The Blue Angels are scheduled to perform three shows — July 2, 3 and 4.

"We're optimistic we'll be able to follow through on a plan that we set in 2014," he said. "We're still going to have the 90th anniversary of the National Cherry Festival airshow."

The Blue Angels are regularly singled out as a high point for most visitors to the festival, which takes place July 2-9 this year, Tkach said.

"I think people would be disappointed if they didn't fly, but I do think they would be understanding following the circumstances," he said.

The Blue Angels will "stand down for an undetermined amount of time following this mishap," U.S. Navy officials said in a release. The Syracuse International Airshow confirmed in a release that the Blue Angels will not perform on June 11-12. It's unclear whether the Blue Angels will perform at other scheduled shows in June.

Kuss died when his F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet crashed into an empty field 2 miles from the runway at a Tennessee airport during a practice flight ahead of a performance at an airshow, a release from the U.S. Navy said.

The Navy is investigating the cause of the crash.

Tkach released a statement Thursday after the crash offering condolences to the Blue Angels, the armed forces and the pilot's family. Cherry Capital Airport director Kevin Klein also offered support to the Blue Angels family.

"They'll go through their evaluation process and let us know," Klein said.

A member of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds crashed a similar jet earlier the same day during a graduation ceremony attended by U.S. President Barack Obama in Colorado. The pilot successfully ejected before the crash.

The Blue Angels attracted more than 400,000 people to the cherry festival in 2014 and the Thunderbirds performed their airshow in 2015 and are scheduled to return in 2017.

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