Thunderbirds’ air show appearance in doubt after crash

By Ryan Lengerich

A U.S. Air Force F-16 Thunderbird crashed this weekend at an air show causing uncertainty for the planes’ status at the Oct. 1 Rotary Air Show in Tucumcari.

Thunderbird Capt. Chris Stricklin ejected safely just moments before his plane crashed and erupted into flames Sunday afternoon at the Gunfighter Skies Air Show at Mountain Home AFB, about 50-miles southeast of Boise, Idaho.

According to a report from the International Council of Air Shows, Stricklin waved to the crowd before being taken to a hospital where he was treated for minor injuries. There were no injuries in the crowd of more than 50,000.
The crash is officially under investigation by the U.S. Air Force investigation board. No expected date as to the investigations conclusion has been set according Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. Staff Sgt. Chris Stagner of the public affairs office. He said the investigation will be completed “as expeditiously as possible.”

The crash casts a cloud of uncertainty for one of the main attractions at the Rotary Club Air Show. Bob McClelland Jr., an event organizer said the investigation results could determine whether the Thunderbirds fly in Tucumcari.

McClelland said that if it’s determined the problem with the plane was mechanical, the planes will most likely proceed as scheduled. However if it’s deemed there was a pilot error it becomes more likely the planes will not fly in the show.

“I feel pretty confident it is a mechanical error,” McClelland said. “I have a feeling it is not going to affect us.”

ICAS President John Cudahy said the final decision to fly is not his, but that the Air Force realizes the pressures involved with organizing air shows.

“The schedule for the rest of the year is out of the team’s hands and will be decided by the Air Force very soon,” Cudahy said.

According to the ICAS report, Stricklin was performing his opening maneuver following take-off when the accident occurred.

This year is the 50th Anniversary of the Air Force Thunderbirds. The plane costs an estimated $18 million. This will be 11th year for the Rotary Club Air Show.