One of the Air Force’s elite Thunderbird jets crashed Thursday following a fly-over for the Air Force Academy’s graduation ceremony in Colorado Springs, Colo.
The F-16 was returning to Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., shortly after the flyover when it crashed, an Air Force official confirmed.
The pilot of the No. 6 jet, Maj. Alex Turner, is being medically evaluated after he ejected safely, Air Force officials said during a press conference. He joined the team in October, officials said. The No. 6 jet is one of the solo aircraft.
The F-16, assigned to the 57th Wing at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, crashed around 1 p.m. and Turner was recovered by local first responders, said Master Sgt. Chrissy Best, a Thunderbirds spokeswoman. Turner ejected south of the Colorado Springs airport.
The crash posed no hazard to the public, she said.
The Thunderbirds' website says Turner has logged over 1,200 flight hours as an Air Force pilot, with more than 270 combat hours over Libya and Iraq.
When asked whether the pilot steered the aircraft toward the empty field deliberately, Best said, "Any time a pilot ejects we always try to go down into an unpopulated area."
Pictures on Twitter appear to show the F-16 Falcon in the middle of a field following the crash.
President Obama, in town after delivering the Air Force Academy graduation's commencement speech on Thursday, met with the pilot. A U.S. Army helicopter, supporting Obama's visit to the academy, was released to respond to the crash, officials said.
"The pilot seemed in fine form, saluted POTUS as he approached and then shook his outstretched hand. The two had a brief chat," according to a White House press pool report. "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," the press report said.
An official said the Air Force will perform a "thorough investigation into the causes of the mishap, and those findings will be released when the investigation is complete."
The last Thunderbirds crash was in 2003 at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho.
Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James tweeted: "My thoughts are with the pilot, their family and friends and all [Air Force Thunderbirds]. Glad to hear pilot is safe."
In an unrelated incident, a U.S. Navy Blue Angels jet crashed after takeoff during a practice flight around 3 p.m.Thursday near Smyrna, Tenn.