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Investigation Continues Months after Thunderbird Crash in Colorado

The Thunderbirds aircraft that crashed in a field near the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. (Photo courtesy Cece Beynon.)
The Thunderbirds aircraft that crashed in a field near the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. (Photo courtesy Cece Beynon.)

The Air Force's investigation into the graduation day crash of a Thunderbirds jet in Colorado Springs remains underway, and the service won't say when it will be complete or what steps have been taken.

Air Force guidelines call for most accident investigations to be finished a month after a crash, but Air Combat Command, which includes the flying team, says the probe of the June 2 crash near the Colorado Springs Airport is more complex than that timeline would allow.

"There's a lot involved in this," said Melissa Walther, a spokeswoman for the command at Langley Air Force Base, Va.

The Air Force regulations over crash investigations comes with a caveat that allows investigators to take more time if required.

"The lack of definitive timeframe reflects our commitment to explore all possible evidence to come to the correct conclusions, so we can use that information to prevent further incidents," Walther said. "We take these boards incredibly seriously and want to find that "ah-ha" moment of why something happened as much as the next person."

The F-16 single-engine jet crashed into a field after Thunderbirds flying team put on a show over the Air Force Academy graduation ceremony. The jets were below 500 feet on their final approach to the airport when Thunderbird 6 pilot Maj. Alex Turner reported engine trouble.

"It suddenly cycled the engine off and on in the descent," Turner told air traffic controllers, according to a recording released by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Seconds later, Tuner radioed that he was ejecting from the plane.

"I'm putting it away from somebody's house here," Turner said. "I'm getting out."

Turner survived the crash unscathed and was greeted at Peterson Air Force Base by President Barack Obama, who had been the graduation's guest speaker.

The plane, which landed on its belly in the field and was mostly in one piece, was hauled from its crash site off Powers Boulevard to a hangar at Peterson, which shares runways with the Colorado Springs Airport. While Walther wouldn't discuss details of the Thunderbird crash, she said the Air Force typically calls on experts from plane manufacturers and engine builders to determine the root cause.

"We do as thorough an investigation as we can," she said.

The Thunderbirds were briefly grounded after the crash for an initial safety review. They resumed flying in June with Turner back in the cockpit.

Over the Labor Day weekend, the Thunderbirds put on a show in New York City.

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