AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AP) — The pilot of a U.S. Air Force Thunderbird ejected safely into a Colorado field Thursday, crashing the fighter jet moments after flying over a crowd watching President Barack Obama’s commencement address for Air Force cadets.
A short helicopter ride later, the pilot found himself shaking hands with the president on the tarmac at a nearby air base.
“The president thanked the pilot for his service to the country and expressed his relief that the pilot was not seriously injured,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.
The Air Force identified the pilot as Maj. Alex Turner, of Chelmsford, Massachusetts. He has more than 270 combat hours over Libya and Iraq.
News of the crash broke while Obama’s motorcade was returning to Peterson Air Force Base for his flight back to Washington. Turner ejected about 15 miles south of the Air Force Academy near Peterson, where Air Force One was waiting to take off.
Emergency responders who picked up Turner in the rescue helicopter brought him to a spot that happened to be on the president’s motorcade route back to Air Force One.
Turner parachuted down about a half-mile from his plane and was standing and chatting with bystanders when firefighters from the nearby town of Security arrived, said Pete Smith, a member of the Security Fire Department.
“He seemed pretty calm,” Smith said. “I would have been a little more upset than he was.”
The pilot was in good condition, but he will undergo medical screenings, according to the Thunderbirds team.
The Air Force said the Thunderbirds will cancel upcoming shows while the crash is investigated, but officials did not say how long the team will be grounded.