COLORADO SPRINGS, June 2 (UPI) — Just moments after punctuating the U.S. Air Force Academy’s graduation ceremony with a flyover Thursday, one of the F-16 fighter jets involved in the stunt went down in a field after losing engine power, officials said.
Air Force officials said the lone engine on one of the F-16 Fighting Falcons, which are part of the branch’s Thunderbirds flying team, suddenly failed after the planes completed the flyover. The pilot safely ejected and the aircraft ended up in a field near the First Baptist Church on Fontaine Avenue in Security-Widefield, less than 10 miles southeast of Colorado Springs.
“A Thunderbirds jet crashed in a field outside Colorado Springs after performing at the Air Force Academy graduation,” the branch tweeted Thursday afternoon. “The pilot of the jet ejected safely and is walking around unhurt. More details will be released as they become available.”
The cause of the engine failure is under investigation.
Video: U.S. Air Force Academy
The Thunderbird F-16s have participated in the academy’s graduation ceremony for decades but none had ever before suffered an in-flight failure at the event, which is often attended by the President of the United States.
The Thunderbirds F-16s are the same as those flown in military missions around the world, but are without some equipment to make the demonstration jets lighter and more maneuverable. The last crash involving a Thunderbird F-16 happened in 2003.
The F-16 Fighting Falcon, manufactured by General Dynamics/Lockheed Martin, has been in service with the U.S. Air Force since 1978. More than 4,500 have been built and the aircraft is also flown by various foreign militaries, including those in Israel, Iraq, South Korea and formerly Italy.