In a bizarre coincidence, two aircraft, one from the Navy’s Blue Angels, and the other from the Air Force’s Thunderbirds, went down in the same day. The USAF pilot, Major Alex Turner, was able to eject and survive. Unfortunately, Marine Captain Jeff Kuss of the Blue Angels did not survive. He was 32 years old.
Considering the inherent danger in close-formation precision flying with the most technologically advanced aircraft in the world, it is remarkable that accidents do not happen more often. But they do happen. Both flight demonstration teams have had their share of accidents and fatalities throughout the years. The most recent was in 2007, when Lt. Commander Kevin Davis of the Blue Angels crashed during an air show in South Carolina. The Thunderbirds’ last fatality was in 1981, when Captain Nick Hauck was killed bringing his T-38 aircraft in on a low approach in Utah.
In addition to these, there have been a number of other crashes and near-misses through the years. But considering the many thousands of flight hours these demonstration teams put into training and air shows, their track record is impressive. Flying at 45o miles per hour, often only 18 inches away from each other, is a feat of airmanship that is simply amazing. Indeed, for those of us who have been at crash sites, it is a testament to the remarkable skill of Major Turner that his downed Thunderbird was basically in one piece. Oftentimes the scene of a crash is a strewn path of rubble that one would be hard-pressed to even identify as part of a plane. But look at this!
As the AP pointed out, supporters of these air shows argue that they are worth the risk, a position that I agree with. Military pilots often say that it is the best recruiting tool they have, and given the enormous amount of time and money it takes to train a fighter pilot (not to mention the washout rates), they need all the recruiting power they can get.
We often think of flying and SOF training as inherently dangerous, and even expect that fatal accidents are a grim part of the job. The Air Force has lost some of its best people through the years. There have been deaths during PJ selection, in the pool. There have been climbing accidents. There have been parachute accidents, and more parachute accidents. All have resulted in the loss of our brothers, but we accept these as part of the job.
Few of us would expect that we would lose nine soldiers in a rollover accident. Yet that is what happened at Fort Hood, Texas this week, due to the massive rain Texas has been experiencing. The soldiers were conducting convoy training when the Light Medium Tactical Vehicle they were traveling in overturned trying to cross a swollen creek. Some of the soldiers were trapped in the vehicle, while others were swept away. A vehicle following the LMTV was able to rescue three others. One of the dead was a cadet at West Point, conducting training during the summer break. A very sad story.
• Staff Sgt. Miguel Angel Colonvazquez, 38, from Brooklyn, New York.
Colonvazquez entered active-duty service in July 2003 as a motor transport operator. He had been with 3rd Battalion, 16th Field Artillery Regiment since May 2011.
He deployed to Iraq from September 2005 to September 2006 and again from May to November 2011. Colonvazquez also deployed twice to Afghanistan, from March 2008 to May 2009 and from July 2013 to March 2014.
His awards and decorations include five Army Commendation Medals, five Army Achievement Medals, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal with campaign star, the Iraq Campaign Medal with campaign star, two Korea Defense Service Medals, and three Overseas Service Ribbons.
• Spc. Christine Faith Armstrong, 27, from Twentynine Palms, California.
Armstrong entered active duty in February 2014 as a motor transport operator. She had been assigned to 3rd Battalion, 16th Field Artillery Regiment since September 2014.
Her awards and decorations include the National Defense Service Medal, the Korea Defense Service Medal and the Army Service Ribbon.
• Pfc. Brandon Austin Banner, 22, from Milton, Florida.
Banner joined the Army in March 2014 as a motor transport operator. He had been with 3rd Battalion, 16th Field Artillery Regiment since July 2014.
His awards and decorations include the National Defense Service Medal, the Korea Defense Service Medal and the Army Service Ribbon.
• Pfc. Zachery Nathaniel Fuller, 23, from Palmetto, Florida.
Fuller entered active duty in November 2015 as a motor transport operator. He had been assigned to 3rd Battalion, 16th Field Artillery Regiment since April.
His awards and decorations include a National Defense Service Medal and the Army Service Ribbon.
• Pvt. Isaac Lee Deleon, 19, of San Angelo, Texas.
Deleon entered active-duty service in November 2015 as a motor transport operator. He had been with 3rd Battalion, 16th Field Artillery Regiment since April.
His awards and decorations include the National Defense Service Medal and the Army Service Ribbon.
• Pvt. Eddy Raelaurin Gates, 20, of Dunn, North Carolina.
Gates entered the Army in December 2015 as a motor transport operator, arriving at 3rd Battalion, 16th Field Artillery Regiment in April.
Gates’ awards and decorations include the National Defense Service Medal and the Army Service Ribbon.
• Pvt. Tysheena Lynette James, 21, of Jersey City, New Jersey.
James joined the Army in November 2015 as a motor transport operator, arriving at 3rd Battalion, 16th Field Artillery Regiment in April.
Her awards and decorations include the National Defense Service Medal and the Army Service Ribbon.
• Cadet Mitchell Alexander Winey, 21, of Valparaiso, Indiana.
Winey was a member of the United States Military Academy Class of 2018, assigned to Company B, First Regiment. He was a graduate of Chesterton High School in Chesterton, Indiana. He reported to West Point on July 2, 2014.
Nine families who never dreamed of an accident of this magnitude are mourning this week. Condolences to all of them.
Some Third-World technical difficulties plagued the vast writing staff of the News Roundup this week. They’ve been cleared up, but not until early Sunday morning, U.S. time. Honestly, it’s probably for the best, given the grim week. We’ll get back to it next week. @BKactual.
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