Thursday, June 02, 2016

Feds award Essential Air Service subsidies to ADI to fly Watertown-Pierre-Denver

Federal aviation officials issued an order Thursday selecting Aerodynamics Inc. (ADI) to receive $4.5 million a year in subsidies to provide scheduled air service to Pierre.

The Pierre City Commission recommended ADI last month to the U.S Department of Transportation, after the city’s air service task force interviewed officials from ADI and from Great Lakes Airlines, which has been serving Pierre for decades. It was the second such recommendation in the past 18 months in a convoluted and messy process that has been a double rejection for Great Lakes which continues to serve Pierre.

Mayor Laurie Gill told the Capital Journal on Thursday, “It’s been a long process waiting for all the steps. This was a huge part of the process, to hear the federal government give ADI the authority to fly our route. We hope at the end of this we end up with reliable service in the Capital City.”

In a new wrinkle – a separate but not unrelated move -  ADI recently announced a new partnership with Great Lakes to sell tickets for its first scheduled passenger route, from Youngstown, Ohio to Chicago.  Two months ago, ADI’s senior vice president and Chief Operating Officer Mickey Bowman said ADI was partnering with Silver Airways of Fort Lauderdale to gain gate, ticketing and baggage conveniences for passengers. Apparently that fell through and now the rivals ADI and Great Lakes are in a partnership to facilitate customer service for ADI’s passengers to hook up with major airline connections in Denver.

The order dated June 2 from DOT said ADI has a two-year contract under the Essential Air Service program to fly 12 weekly flights from Watertown and Pierre to Denver.  The annual subsidy for the Pierre-Denver leg will be $4.52 million, while for the Watertown leg ADI will receive $2.27 million.

Atlanta-based ADI, with a 50-year history as a charter service, only two weeks ago received final authority from DOT to begin flying scheduled passenger flights. DOT has had questions about ADI’s financial fitness and several times over the past 18 months had to ask for more documentation of ADI’s money in the bank.

In Thursday’s announcement of the new EAS selection of ADI, the DOT officials said: “ADI is subject to the Department’s continuing fitness requirements and no information has come ot our attention that would cause us to question the air carrier’s fitness at this time.”

Pierre chose ADI over Great Lakes in late 2014, too. Then, it was different as DOT told ADI it was rejecting its request for authority to begin scheduled passenger service because of the financial and legal woes of its then-CEO and main owner, Scott Beale.

DOT said Beale had been less than forthright with them about his situation. ADI’s board quickly jettisoned Beale and spent months proving to DOT it was a charter airline which had what it takes to enter the world of scheduled passenger service.

Great Lakes has been flying from Pierre to Denver and to Minneapolis without EAS money linked to Pierre;  rather it was living off EAS money for flights to Huron and Watertown until recently.

The EAS money is paid in reimbursement form based on per flight. If passenger numbers are too low, so that the per-passenger subsidy goes over $1,000, it would jeopardize the deal. But ADI’s proposal for the flights from both cities to Denver peg the projected per-passenger subsidy as less than $400.

The new partnership with Great Lakes is ironic in the sense that it was dissatisfaction with Great Lakes’ service in 2013 and 2014 by Pierre city leaders, especially Mayor Gill, that led them to ask DOT to allow them to solicit other airlines.

The ill-fated recommendation of ADI by Pierre in late 2014 led to a year-long restructuring of the airline company and another round of EAS proposals this spring. Both times, Pierre civic leaders chose ADI over Great Lakes, which proposed to do a similar flight schedule for about half the federal subsidy.

Watertown also faces its own special hurdle: DOT recently listed the city as one of 12 in the country fated to lose EAS eligibility because for the year ended last Oct. 1, it went above the $200-per-passenger subsidy level. DOT rules say any EAS community within 210 miles of a major hub airport must maintain a subsidy level below $200 per passenger.

Watertown Mayor Steve Thorson said he’s confident the city will be able to change DOT’s mind by showing that the city’s center actually now is four miles further west than it was under DOT’s earlier measurement to Minneapolis. That will put it outside the 210-mile limit, meaning the EAS subsidy trigger to worry about is $1,000 per passenger.

ADI's Bowman has said earlier he hopes ADI could begin flights between Youngstown and Chicago in June and once that schedule is solidified and ADI has its feet wet, it can begin the Watertown-Pierre-Denver schedule by August sometime.

  ADI’s service from Youngstown involves a lump-sum subsidy from DOT to the community’s airport, not the EAS funding ADI will receive for the Pierre and Watertown routes.

  Great Lakes stopped its daily flight between Pierre and Minneapolis on Wednesday, June 1, but continues two flights a day from Pierre to Denver.

The fact that Great Lakes lost its EAS-subsidized routes from Thief River Falls, Minnesota to Minneapolis makes the Pierre to Minneapolis flights a no-paying proposition anymore, Great Lakes CEO Chuck Howell told the Capital Journal.

Great Lakes is bound to continue providing air service from Pierre to Denver until ADI begins its proposed schedule here, Howell said.

 DOT officials said the fact that community leaders in Pierre and Watertown recommended ADI, not Great Lakes, was a key factor in awarding the EAS contracts to ADI.

DOT, in its order issued Thursday, said in awarding EAS contracts, it considers service reliability of an airline, its contractual and marketing arrangements with a larger carrier at the hub, interline arrangements (for baggage and ticketing) with a larger carrier at the hub, and the airlines plans for marketing its service in the community, as well as the community’s views.

“With regard to Great Lakes, neither of the communities supported its porposed service,” DOT wrote in its order on Thursday. “Pierre petitioned (DOT) to find another EAS provider and Watertown no longer wanted the carrier serving the community. Pierre noted ‘. . .in recent years the reliability of the air service has substantially declined."

City leaders have been in contact with ADI but don’t have a date certain when ADI will begin touching down in Pierre, Gill said.  “They need to get through their start-up operational issues.”

She thinks it likely will be September before ADI’s 50-passenger jets start picking up passengers in Pierre. “We have a huge hunting season here and they know that,” Gills said of ADI.

  Gills said she just found out “in the last 24 hours” about the new partnership between ADI and Great Lakes It’s

“It was news to me,” Gill said. “We are working with both Great Lakes and ADI to get more information about what that means. The airline industry these days has a lot of moving targets, moving pieces and a lot of instant collaborations between airlines. We hope it will turn out to be a win-win for us in Pierre and we will end up with air service that is better than we have seen in a long time.”


Federal Aviation Administration Restructuring Is Grounded by Senate Opposition: Proposal to shift control of air-traffic control system to nonprofit corporation will likely stall, stopgap funding bill looms

Kathryn's Report:

The Wall Street Journal 
Updated June 2, 2016 8:25 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON—A bid by House Republicans to shift the federal air-traffic control system to a nonprofit corporation’s control has been sidelined by bipartisan Senate opposition, according to congressional staffers, airline industry officials and others participating in the process.

Continuing disagreements between senators and the Republican chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee over a Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill have created a legislative logjam, these people said, likely to last until at least next spring or summer.

The anticipated result, according to interviews during an industry conference here, is that the agency will be hobbled with another brief, stopgap funding bill that all sides had hoped to avoid. Such an outcome would maintain the FAA’s basic spending levels and programs, while prompting uncertainty about new policy initiatives and leaving the agency without longer-term financial stability that would benefit its efforts to modernize the nation’s aging air-traffic control system.

A temporary extension also would be a blow to Rep. Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania, the House committee’s Republican chairman, who has maneuvered for nearly two years to pass a major restructuring of the FAA’s traffic-control network and its roughly 38,000 workers. His panel has adopted the sweeping structural and revenue changes, but the measure hasn’t reached the House floor. The Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill in April that doesn’t include any of those controversial provisions.

According to industry officials, the committee bill doesn’t have enough support at this point to clear the House.

In a presidential election year, according to industry officials on both sides of the debate, time is quickly running out to hammer out any compromise with the Senate. Current FAA legislation expires July 15.

Some of the most telling comments came from proponents of Rep. Shuster’s proposal, who acknowledged it was essentially dead for the short term. Paul Rinaldi, president of the controllers union and a supporter of the House measure, said in an interview: “I would be really, really surprised if anything other than an extension came out that pushed” reauthorization into early 2017. Given summer legislative schedules and the election, he added, lawmakers have only “a handful of days to try to resolve something.”

Gerald Dillingham, a senior Government Accountability Office official who hasn’t taken sides in the debate, acknowledged the same dynamics have run out the clock on the House position. “We’re not really thinking that this decision is necessarily going to come” in 2016, he told the conference.

The FAA’s leadership, whipsawed by draconian budget cuts and employee furloughs in previous years, has indicated it is prepared to live with a temporary extension. Unlike those earlier times, “we’re not really expecting a budget crisis,” Michael Whitaker, the FAA’s No. 2 official said during a speech to the conference Wednesday. “We’re in a relatively stable place” with regard to air-traffic upgrades, he said.

A staffer for Rep. Shuster said his boss “has not made a decision yet,” adding that his game plan will become clearer in the next few weeks. But according to people familiar with the chairman’s thinking, he has concluded that “a plain-vanilla extension” may leave him in a stronger position to resume the debate in 2017 and try to win converts than a longer extension incorporating various Senate proposals.

A spokeswoman for the major U.S.-airline trade association, which also has strongly backed Rep. Shuster, said “if we want to continue to have the safest air traffic control system in the world, we need to modernize technology and ensure the system can’t be interrupted by congressional budget impasses. We continue to believe this transformational change is necessary.”

Rep. Shuster’s call for dramatic restructuring has run into a barrage of criticism, including from groups representing commercial pilots, private aviators and business-jet operators—all of whom he unsuccessfully tried to woo with favorable treatment under the bill.

Bipartisan leaders of the Senate Commerce Committee in May urged the House to accept their bill, which beefs up airport security, promotes widespread use of commercial drones and streamlines certification of new safety systems for private aircraft. As of earlier this week, according to people familiar with the process, Senate leaders hadn’t focused on the likely length of the looming reauthorization measure or whether they would try to attach certain security and consumer-protection provisions to some other legislative vehicle.

A short term, uncluttered extension “keeps alive the only path forward for air-traffic control reform,” according to Roger Cohen, an industry consultant who previously headed up the trade association representing U.S. regional airlines.

“Congress likes to gripe about airlines, but only acts in crisis mode” such as a government shutdown or planes stuck on the tarmac according to Mr. Cohen, who added “the deck could get re-shuffled after the election.”

—Susan Carey in Chicago contributed to this article.

Original article can be found here:

College Park now home to Federal Aviation Administration second-largest office

Kathryn's Report:

College Park’s Federal Aviation Administration office, the largest outside of Washington, D.C., now accommodates 1,100 employees as of May 16.

A recent renovation provided additional workspace for 330 newly relocated employees.

The city of College Park and the FAA Southern Region center at 1701 Columbia Ave. will hold a formal reception June 14.

“This is a great accomplishment,” College Park Mayor Jack P. Longino said in a statement. “I’m proud of the mindset of the FAA in seeking a solution to expand the offerings of this location, right in the heart of downtown College Park. To attract jobs and businesses to the downtown area is consistent with the growth of our city center, and there are yet more things to come.”

The office is the largest of nine U.S. regional offices, according to city spokesman Gerald H. Walker.

“The Southern Region center’s campus is located next to College Park’s MARTA rail station and other urban amenities such as Hotel Indigo and ThePad on Harvard, a $35 million mixed-use complex under construction that will offer 109 deluxe apartments, restaurants and 25,000 square feet of retail,” he said in a statement.

The local consolidation of its workforce represents increased efficiency within the FAA, according to officials.

“Our partnership with the city of College Park has enabled us to reduce the size of our office space while continuing to provide our employees with a quality work environment where they can support the agency’s important safety mission,” Dennis E. Roberts, FAA Southern Region administrator, said in a statement.

City Manager Terrence Moore hailed the cooperation between the various parties – the FAA, the U.S. General Services Administration and College Park.

“On behalf of city administration, I’m extremely proud of not only the associated accomplishments relative to resulting economic development synergy but also for the tremendous collaborative partnership we enjoy,” he said in a statement. “The commitment and dedication relative to the consummated lease transaction will likewise advance our progressive approach to future development.”

The FAA has leased space in the College Park building since 1993 and in 2014 it signed a 10-year lease renewal for the 217,313-square-foot property, Walker said.

The synergy and efficiency allowed the shifting of about 330 employees from nearby locations to the Southern Region Center, which now accommodates more than 1,100 employees.

“This is a great achievement in our vision for an aerotropolis, or airport city,” Artie Jones III, College Park’s director of economic development, said in a statement. “The business synergy within College Park’s downtown area, coupled with the infrastructure improvements underway helps in creating an environment that will attract, retain, and expand our businesses for decades to come.”

The city Park employed Colliers International, a global real estate company, and the Atlanta office of Newmark Grubb Knight Frank to finalize the lease transaction.

Original article can be found here:

Incident occurred June 02, 2016 at Palm Beach County Glades Airport (KPHK), Pahokee, Florida

Kathryn's Report:

PAHOKEE, Fla. - Palm Beach County Fire Rescue said two people were evaluated and one was sent to the hospital Thursday after a small aircraft's landing gear collapsed after landing at the Pahokee Airport.

Fire Rescue Capt. Albert Borroto said at 1:34 p.m. crews responded to the airport.

Two occupants were on the aircraft at the time of the landing and evaluated by paramedics.

One patient was transported to a local hospital for treatment.

No other details have been released.

Original article can be found here:

General Dynamics F-16CM Fighting Falcon, United States Air Force Thunderbirds: Accident occurred June 02, 2016 near City of Colorado Springs Municipal Airport (KCOS), El Paso County, Colorado

Kathryn's Report:

EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. -  The pilot of a plane that crashed near Security-Widefield Thursday was not injured, according to Air Combat Command.

The F-16 crashed in a field near S. Powers Boulevard and Fontaine Boulevard. The Thunderbirds were returning to Peterson Air Force Base after performing at the Air Force Academy graduation when the crash happened.

Despite the crash, the plane is intact and did not start a fire. The nose of the plane appears buckled.

People were being kept away from the wreckage because of a Hydrazine leak. Hydrazine is a type of jet fuel. 

A source tells KRDO NewsChannel 13 that there are no signs of foul play and terrorism is not suspected as a cause.

The source says the jets are built with secret technology, and the Air Force will be careful to make sure each and every piece that may have shaken loose from the plane is recovered.

The source says the pilot intentionally went down in an open field to avoid any homes, businesses or schools.

We're told the pilot of the downed jet was Maj. Alex Turner. Turner has logged 1200 flight hours and 270 combat hours in Libya and Iraq.

Turner is from Chelmsford, Mass., which is about 30 miles northwest of Boston.

Turner's mom, Ann Turner, spoke to ABC affiliate WCVB about the crash Thursday. "He's pretty well trained. He has a lot of experience. I'm just relieved that he is OK," she said.

The Air Force said in a news release that it will quote "perform a thorough investigation into the causes of the mishap, and those findings will be released when the investigation is complete."

Powers Boulevard remains closed in both directions between Bradley Road and Fontaine Boulevard.

Story and video: 

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) A Thunderbird pilot was able to parachute to safety after aircraft issues caused his jet to begin going down in the Security-Widefield area Thursday afternoon.

The crash happened immediately following the annual Thunderbird performance at the Air Force Academy graduation. Witnesses say the plane crashed in a field near the Powers and Fontaine intersection, across the street from First Baptist Church-Peaceful Valley.

The aircraft was on its final approach to the Colorado Springs Airport, according to Peterson Air Force Base spokesperson Jeff Bohn.

"The indication that we have is that we received there radio-wise is that he did have an issue with the aircraft and that he was getting out of the aircraft," Thunderbirds spokesperson Christopher Hammond said.

Hammond said the pilot was close to a residential area when he started having problems.

"He tried made a conscious effort to maneuver his aircraft away from neighborhoods," he said.

The pilot, identified as Maj. Alex Turner, was able to land the jet intact -- despite ejecting.

"It was slow speed, it was close to the ground [prior to crashing] looks like it impacted the ground, skidded a was a total aircraft [after landing]."

"I think it is a testament to the exceptional pilotism of our Air Force Thunderbird pilot," Bohn said.

Photos from one 11 News viewer show Turner safely following his aircraft via parachute into the field. An Army helicopter supporting the Secret Service picked Turner up and took him to Peterson Air Force Base for medical observation.

"After he ejected from the aircraft, we did confirm from one of our aircrafts that we kept airborne that he was OK on the ground, in terms of being able to walk around on his own accord. He also met with some bystanders, and then as far as when he arrived at Peterson Air Force Base I was able to see him in person and...I had no cause for concern," Hammond said.

According to a bio on the Thunderbirds website, Turner is in his first year with the team, but has ample experience flying with the military. The bio states he has logged 1,200 flight hours as an Air Force pilot and more than 270 combat hours over Libya and Iraq.

Turner flies in the number six position when in formation, according to Hammond.

Powers remains closed between Bradley and Mesa Ridge Parkway, while Fontaine is closed between Goldfield and Sleepy Meadows. People are being kept away from the area around the crash site has a precaution due to Hydrozene, a chemical that can be hazardous to skin and eyes. The site has to mitigated to ensure there is no risk, according to El Paso County Sheriff's Office.

A minor issue compared to how terrible the crash could have been: news out of Tennessee that a U.S. Navy Blue Angels pilot was killed in a crash underscored the tragedy averted in Colorado.

Original article can be found here:

An F-16 fighter jet of the Air Force Thunderbirds flying team crashed south of Colorado Springs minutes after wrapping up an air show over the Air Force Academy graduation Thursday.

The pilot of jet No. 6 safely ejected about 1:15 p.m., Air Force sources said.

The jet crashed in a field across from the First Baptist Church in the Security/Widefield area, at 7925 Fontaine Blvd. The plane was leaking fuel, and authorities were pushing people back from the area. Nearby roads were closed. A reverse 911 call was sent out to area residents to keep people indoors.

The pilot, Maj. Alex Turner, met with President Barack Obama before the president flew out of Peterson Air Force Base about 2:10 p.m. Obama, in Colorado Springs to give the commencement speech at the academy, stopped his motorcade and shook hands with Turner moments before boarding Air Force One.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said 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."

Air Force Academy sources said Turner's plane engine failed. The official cause of the crash is under investigation.

Turner joined the Thunderbirds in 2015 and has logged more than 1,200 flight hours as an Air Force pilot, with more than 270 combat hours over Libya and Iraq, according to the flying team's website. Before joining the Thunderbirds, Turner, from Chelmsford, Mass., served as an F-16 instructor pilot at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. Turner is a solo pilot for the team, showing off the F-16's performance while flashing past the group's four-plane diamond formation.

Turner was on the final approach to a runway when Peterson Air Force Base received reports of an aircraft down, said Jeff Bohn, a base spokesman. Turner ejected a few hundred feet from the crash.

Alexander Rodriguez told The Gazette he heard two loud bangs and looked up to see the Thunderbird slowly gliding 40 to 50 feet above the ground.

"I immediately knew that it was going to crash," Rodriguez said.

It hit the ground in a field northeast of Fountain and Powers boulevards and slid 100 to 150 feet. The front of the aircraft appeared to bend backward before the plane came to a rest.

"Our first thought was the pilot - I didn't see him eject at all," Rodriguez said. "So I wasn't sure if he was still in the aircraft or not. So that was my first thought."

The jet appeared to stop largely intact - only the front end of it appeared damaged and a rear wing was broken, Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said he ran to the plane, passing debris and plane parts littering the field. He checked the cockpit and found it empty.

"I was relieved the pilot was OK," he said.

Meanwhile, Rodriguez's brother and father ran to where they thought the pilot landed. They found him, apparently having escaped severe injury, Rodriguez said, relaying information from his relatives.

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, who watched the Thunderbirds show from Falcon Stadium, took to Twitter to express gratitude for Turner's safety.

"My thoughts are with the pilot, their family and friends and all @AFThunderbirds," James wrote. "Glad to hear pilot is safe."

The Thunderbirds incident wasn't Thursday's only plane crash. A U.S. Navy Blue Angels jet crashed about 3 p.m. in Smyrna, Tenn. One person was killed. 

The last Thunderbirds crash happened on Aug. 20, 2005, over Lake Michigan during the Chicago Air & Water Show. During the mid-air incident, the missile tip on the right wing of one aircraft made contact with an adjacent plane's left stabilizer, snapping off a 4-foot section of the missile rail, which fell into Lake Michigan. No injuries were reported.

For generations, the Thunderbirds have flown over the academy's graduation without incident. The planes routinely are pressed to their limits, with maneuvers that can subject the aircraft to more than nine times the force of gravity.

Rodriguez said he wasn't surprised the aircraft appeared to hit the ground with minimal force, leaving it largely intact. He praised the pilot.

"They're trained for events like this, what to do ," Rodriguez said, "That's only the best pilots in the Air Force who fly the Thunderbirds."


McDonnell-Douglas F/A-18C Hornet, United States Navy Blue Angels: Fatal accident occurred June 02, 2016 near Smyrna Airport (KMQY), Rutherford County, Tennessee

Kathryn's Report:

The Navy says a Blue Angels F/A-18 fighter jet has crashed and killed a pilot near Nashville, Tennessee.

Key developments: 

Official identifies the pilot killed in Blue Angels jet crash as Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss

Kuss flew in Seattle Seafair last year
The Tenn. crash happened around 1 p.m. PST
No civilians were hurt on the ground
The five other pilots landed safely

Kuss, 32, was the pilot of plane No. 6. 

The Navy says the pilot was beginning to take off during an afternoon practice session when the crash happened. Five other F/A-18 jets landed safely moments later.

Witnesses took to social media to share pictures of a fireball and a thick black plume of smoke from the crash. Images shows residential fences near the wreckage.

The Blue Angels are scheduled to fly 66 demonstrations at 34 locations throughout the nation this year, including Seattle. 

The elite acrobatics team was scheduled to perform The Great Tennessee Air Show this weekend.

In the Blue Angels' 70th anniversary year, Thursday's crash makes the 27th Blue Angels fatality since their inception in 1946. 

The last Blue Angels crash was in 2007 — and before that in 1999. No crashes have ever happened during Seattle's summer Seafair.  

Captain Jeff Kuss flew during in Seattle last year during the Seafair Festival, where the Blue Angels show has been a staple of the celebration for six decades.

“Everyone is here for a common goal, and discipline, and we like to display that across the country in form of a flight demonstration,” he told KIRO 7 News in 2015. 

Kuss took anchor John Knicely along for a ride in 2015.

During the flight, they talked about his love for the Blue Angels and how it was an honor for him to fly with the team.

Kuss told Knicely he had flown multiple combat missions overseas. 

Kuss joined the Blues in September 2014 with more than 1,400 flight hours to his name.

The Blue Angels show is considered the most impressive demonstration at the Boeing Seafair Air Show. See photos from the 2015 show here.

The Blue Angels first flew at Seafair in 1952.

In 1994 and 1995 the Blue Angels didn’t fly at Seafair because they didn’t get a safety rule waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration. That waiver was typically given so they could fly over boats on the log boom, but was not granted in ’94 and ’95 because of safety concerns. The waiver was granted again for the 1996 Seafair festival after dozens of complaint calls to the mayor’s office and FAA.  

Second separate crash of the day for performance teams

This is the second fighter jet crash of the day for the military's elite fighter jet performance teams. 

An Air Force Thunderbird F-16 crashed earlier Thursday in a field near Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado, just after ceremonies at the nearby academy where President Obama delivered the commencement address.

The pilot ejected safely and is walking around, not hurt, according to a U.S. Air Force tweet.

Story and video:

Here is a statement just released from the Commander of Naval Air Forces


Blue Angel F/A-18 Crashes During Air Show Practice

Smyrna, TN - A U.S. Navy F/A-18 aircraft assigned to the Navy’s Flight Demonstration squadron, the Blue Angels, crashed today during the beginning stages of an afternoon practice at the Smyrna, Tenn., Airport, at approximately 3:01 p.m., CDT.

The pilot of the jet was taking off to start the afternoon practice when the mishap occurred.

The name of the pilot is being withheld pending next-of-kin notification requirements.

The other five Blue Angel jets were not involved in the incident and landed safely moments later.

The crash occurred approximately two miles from the runway.

The Great Tennessee Air Show:

SMYRNA, Tenn. (WKRN) – A pilot was killed after a U.S. Navy Blue Angels jet crashed Thursday afternoon in Smyrna ahead of their weekend airshow at the city’s airport.

The F/A-18 aircraft crashed at 3 p.m. near Weakly Lane, about 2.5 miles from the Nissan manufacturing plant, while practicing for the demonstration.

The U.S. Navy confirmed the pilot died in the crash. The name of the pilot is being withheld pending next-of-kin notification requirements.

The other five Blue Angel jets were not involved in the incident and landed safely moments later.

News 2 spoke with witness Paula Payne who said the jet sounded louder than normal shorty before the crash.

“I looked out the window and heard the planes maneuvering again. I looked out the window and saw one straight out here come down, hit the ground, and explode,” she said.

Becca Burgess said she had been hearing the jets all day and noticed one was flying particularly low.

“I looked up and saw it coming down and I thought maybe they were doing dips … Then I saw a huge ball of orange fire, and I’m like, ‘Oh my god, he’s crashed,’” she explained. “I cried. I mean, the first thought was fear for the pilot.”

The Smyrna Police Department is assisting but is yielding the investigation to the Federal Aviation Administration and U.S. military.

The Tennessee Highway Patrol also responded to the scene to help direct traffic in the area.

Around 1,300 people were without power after the jet reportedly clipped some power lines during the crash, but it was restored about an hour later.

Further details weren’t immediately known.

News 2 learned Hunter Hayes was set to fly with the Blue Angels on Friday. His publicist said the crash happened right in front of them, but he was not injured.

Our own Samantha Fisher flew with the flight team on Wednesday ahead of their performance at the Great Tennessee Airshow on June 4 and 5. It’s unclear if the crash will affect the show.

Story and video:

SMYRNA — U.S. Navy officials have confirmed the pilot of a Blue Angels jet was killed in a crash about 3 p.m. today.

Steve Fiebing, deputy public affairs officer for the Naval Air Forces, said the jet crashed at 3:01 p.m. He said the Naval Air Forces would investigate.

The pilot has not been publicly identified.

Witnesses said all other Blue Angels aircraft landed and were on the ground. The military flight demonstration unit was in Smyrna for the Great Tennessee Airshow on Saturday and Sunday.

A fireball and thick black plume of smoke from the crash could be seen just beyond the runway at Smyrna Airport and from Interstate 24.

Helicopters circled the area and first responders cordoned off nearby areas. Bright yellow police tape kept residents of the nearby Fairway Meadows Apartment complex, at 93 Weakley Lane, at a safe distance.

Jennifer Elliott was in her yard watching the Blue Angels practice. She went inside just before the crash and said she felt the explosion at their house, which is about a mile from the Smyrna airport.

”It sounded like car crashed into my house,” she said. “Everything shook.”

Minutes later, she said she could hear sirens and the other Blue Angels team were circling over the smoke.

Rebecca Durand was in her car with her son Jordan when they saw the jet go down. Durand said she saw the nose of the jet come straight down. She thought it was a stunt.

"Instead, I just saw this big orange explosion," she said.

"Just like in the movies," Jordan Durand said.

The crash occurred the same day as another military performance plane, a U.S. Air Force Thunderbird, crashed near Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado after a flyover during a graduation ceremony.

The six jets of the Blue Angels roared over downtown Nashville earlier Thursday. The Blue Angels are scheduled to fly 66 demonstrations at 34 locations throughout the nation this year, which is the team's 70th anniversary year. The mission of the unit is to showcase the pride and professionalism of the United States Navy and Marine Corps through flight demonstrations and community outreach.

It’s still unclear how many times Blue Angels have crashed in the team's history.

Media reports indicate the last fatal crash involving the Blue Angels was a 2007 crash in South Carolina. The pilot flew too low and tried to make a turn while traveling too fast, leading to the fatal crash, according to The Virginian Pilot.

At the time, The Associated Press reported the crash was the 26th fatality in Blue Angel’s history.

In order to fly Blue Angels jet, Navy and Marine pilots must have aircraft carrier qualifications and a minimum of 1,250 tactical jet-flight hours, according the team’s website. Pilots typically serve two years before returning to their units.

Since 1946, the Blue Angels have performed for more than 484 million fans, according to the team’s website.

Story and video:

The pilot of a US Navy Blue Angel F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet was killed Thursday when the aircraft crashed in central Tennessee, a Navy official confirmed to Fox News.

The crash involving the jet happened after 3 p.m. southeast of Nashville in the town of Smyrna, a Rutherford County dispatcher told Fox 17.

La Vergne, Tenn. Fire Chief Rick McCormick told Fox News that the jet crashed off airport property just after takeoff.

He added that the jet did not crash into buildings off the runway. 

Commander Jeannie Grenaveld, a spokeswoman for Naval Air Forces, told Fox News the crash happened during a practice flight for the Great Tennessee Airshow in Smyrna. The Blue Angels are performing June 4 and 5 at the airport.

Becca Cullision-Burgess told Fox 17 she was in her shop "My Southern Charm" when she saw the crash.

"I've never seen such a big ball or orange fire before," she said.

The Blue Angels flew over downtown Nashville earlier in the day.

Earlier Thursday, an Air Force Thunderbird jet crashed south of Colorado Springs, Colo. just after a flyover for a graduation of Air Force Academy cadets where President Obama had spoken.

Air Force spokeswoman Lt. Col. Michal Kloeffler-Howard said the pilot safely ejected from the jet.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the president thanked the pilot for his service and expressed his relief that he wasn't seriously injured

The F-16 crashed in a field near Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs just after ceremonies at the nearby academy where Obama delivered the commencement address.

Authorities say no one on the ground was injured in the Colorado incident.

Original article can be found here:

Anchorage police release surveillance images in plane tire slashing case

In this Thursday, June 30, 2016 photo, Kris Nedwick discusses damage done to his private airplane in early June when an overnight vandalism spree left dozens of airplanes with slashed tires at a small airport in Anchorage, Alaska. No arrests have been made in the incident discovered the morning of June 2.

In this Thursday, June 30, 2016 photo, Kris Nedwick discusses damage done to his private airplane in early June when an overnight vandalism spree left dozens of airplanes with slashed tires.

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — One month after the tires on 87 private airplanes were slashed at a small airport in Alaska's largest city, police publicly released grainy surveillance images Friday showing what they are calling a person of interest in the unsolved case.

The four images show a figure dressed in dark clothing and wearing a backpack near airplanes recorded around 1:20 a.m. June 2 at Merrill Field in Anchorage. The person in the image is shown on foot near airplanes in three of the images, and at a gate in the fourth. Police are hoping publicly releasing the images will lead to further information.

There have been no arrests or suspects identified by police or the FBI, which is assisting in the investigation. Police said the images were found after police reviewed hundreds of hours of surveillance footage from the area. Police still have more footage to review.

Soon after the incident, police asked area businesses and others for surveillance footage, and did so again on Friday.

The consensus among many affected pilots is that this was no ordinary vandalism spree, but a carefully orchestrated mission. The airport, located at the edge of downtown, is home to 830 aircraft.

"It was an organized effort," said Anchorage pilot Kris Nedwick, whose Piper Cub was among those hit. "It was clearly a well-executed, well-planned-out act of organized vandalism. I don't know that I would call it vandalism because vandalism seems so random."

In this case, the planes targeted are in two areas not covered by security cameras, pilots pointed out, with much of the damage done to aircraft parked near Merrill Field's southern perimeter where the nearest entrance does have cameras. Also, pilots don't see how one person could have done all the damage, which involved cutting and piercing the two main wheels and tail wheel on scores of aircraft. Aircraft tires can run as high as $2,000 each.

Another pilot, Lars Gleitsmann, is among some pilots who speculate the incident might have involved a group of people with some kind of agenda, such as environmental extremists, neighbors angry about the noise caused by planes, or individuals launching some kind of class warfare against people who own private aircraft.

"If you look at the political landscape of the United States now, there are so many people that are radicalized," he said.

Merrill Field manager Paul Bowers said every potential lead was being explored in the investigation. No theories are being automatically rejected.

"It clearly was targeted vandalism in a clearly concerted effort," he said. "Everything beyond that is pure conjecture."

FBI spokeswoman Staci Feger-Pellessier said Friday her agency is assisting in the investigation, and she referred questions to Anchorage police.

Police spokeswoman Jennifer Castro said every possible angle is being investigated. But she added that investigators have not been able to determine a motive at this point.

ANCHORAGE – Police are looking for anyone with information about who may have caused $200,000 damage to airplanes at Merrill Field in early June. According to a release on Friday, the Anchorage Police Department says security camera footage shows a person who was there early that morning.

Around 9 a.m. on June 2, APD was notified that more than 80 aircraft at Merrill Field had their tires slashed. In the release Friday, the department stated it has since investigated to find suspects in the case, including watching hundreds of hours of surveillance footage from the area.

Police say they have found a person of interest in the case shown in the images above, but do not have a positive identity. The person was on foot in Merrill Field around 1:20 a.m. on June 2 in the areas where the planes were vandalized, according to police, and was wearing dark clothing and carrying a backpack that may have a reflector on the left side.

Cash rewards are being offered for anyone with information that leads to an arrest. The Alaskan Aviation Safety Foundation set up GoFundMe account to be used as a reward fund for information leading to the arrest of anyone responsible for the vandalism. In addition to the GoFundMe reward, Anchorage Crime Stoppers will pay $1,000 for information leading to the arrest of responsible parties.

Tips must be received by Anchorage Crime Stoppers to be eligible for these rewards; anyone offering information will remain anonymous. If you know anything about these crimes, call Crime Stoppers at 561-STOP or submit an anonymous tip online at

Anyone with any information about the person shown is these images is asked to contact APD at 786-8900. If any additional businesses or organizations have surveillance footage from June 2, 2016 between 12:30 a.m. and 3:00 a.m. in the Merrill Field area, they are asked to contact APD.

Anchorage police say this person, seen early June 2 at Merrill Field, is a “person of interest” in the slashing of an estimated $200,000 worth of plane tires. (Courtesy APD)

Almost a month after dozens of airplane tires were slashed at Anchorage's Merrill Field, police are once again calling for the public's help in finding the person responsible – this time releasing fuzzy surveillance images of a person who might be connected to the crime.

Police spokeswoman Jennifer Castro said in a statement Friday morning that images showing the "person of interest" were found after officers reviewed "hundreds of hours" of surveillance footage from cameras at the field. 

Police say the June 2 vandalism, which affected 87 aircraft parked at Merrill Field, did an estimated $200,000 in damage to plane tires valued at $2,000 to $3,000 apiece.

"The person shown in the images was on foot in Merrill Field around 1:20 a.m. on June 2, in the areas where the planes were vandalized," Castro wrote. "The person in the image is wearing dark clothing and had on a backpack that possibly has a reflector on the left side."

Castro said by email Friday that detectives investigating the case declined to comment on whether the surveillance imagery showed the person actually slashing tires.

"We've reviewed footage from over 55 cameras at Merrill Field looking at seven hours of footage from each one," Castro wrote.

Anchorage Crime Stoppers is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the case, and the Alaskan Aviation Safety Foundation has set up a GoFundMe page taking donations toward a further reward. As of Friday morning, the foundation's reward fund was up to nearly $3,000 in donations.

Only tips submitted to Anchorage Crime Stoppers at 907-561-STOP or its website will be eligible for the rewards.

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — One month after the tires on 87 private airplanes were slashed at a small airport in Alaska's largest city, police publicly released grainy surveillance images Friday showing what they are calling a person of interest in the unsolved case.

The four images show a figure dressed in dark clothing and wearing a backpack near airplanes recorded around 1:20 a.m. June 2 at Merrill Field in Anchorage. The person in the image is shown on foot near airplanes in three of the images, and at a gate in the fourth.

There have been no arrests or suspects identified by police or the FBI, which is assisting in the investigation.

But the consensus among many affected pilots is that this was no ordinary vandalism spree, but a carefully planned and orchestrated mission.

Merrill Field – Web Camera System:

Airframes Alaska:

"Pixie dust" used in manufacturing Alaskan Bush wheels.

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Editor's note:An earlier version of this story said Airframes Alaska is the only Alaska supplier of tundra tires. Seaplanes North, located at Anchorage's Lake Hood, said it also supplies the tires.

An Alaska supplier of the large “tundra tires” used on many bush planes is working overtime to meet demand. Airframes Alaska manufactures various Bush Wheel sizes all by hand.

“Each tire can take two days of man hours to actually build on average,” said Heather Montgomery. She says the calls began at 8 am from pilots looking to replace the ones vandalized.

“A lot of these pilots, they make their living on this aircraft and for somebody to do that is just, I don’t even have words, said Montgomery.

A set of two tires can cost between $2,500 and $4,000 depending on the size. The company has ramped up production to meet the new demand, and selling them at cost for victims of the vandalism.

“We’re doing everything we can to get these pilots back in the air. We are working overtime,” said Montgomery. She says 40 sets of tires were sold Thursday and a waiting list is growing.

Story and video:

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Pilots and plane owners are picking up the pieces after more than 100 tires were slashed.  And now many places are sold out of those tires or are on back order because the production of bush plane tires take almost to days of man power to make.

Workers at the only production plant in Alaska, Airframes Alaska, are working around the clock to help Alaskans affected by the recent vandalism, to get replacement tires as soon as possible.

We spoke with Heather Montgomery at Airframes Alaska, she says within hours of learning of the news,  there were people lined up outside their door to get new tires.  Montgomery says something like this can really hurt the Alaskan community and affect families, so they are doing everything they can to produce these tires as fast as they can.

Because these tires are so special and are used mainly on bush planes, the production process of these tires is very different than on other planes, so the company can only produce about six per day.

Airframes Alaska is offering those affected at Merrill Field a discount on new tires, but a pair usually cost around $4,000. 

Paul Bowers


Anchorage police say they have not identified a suspect or suspects and do not know the motive in the Thursday vandalism spree that damaged 87 planes at Merrill Field. Expensive tires on the small planes were slashed.

Spokeswoman Jennifer Castro said Anchorage police are also not sure yet if more than one person was involved in the crime which occurred sometime between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. Thursday.

FBI spokesman Richard VanVeldhuisen said his agency has not been asked to assist in the investigation.

Anchorage police have asked businesses along E 15th Avenue and Debarr Road to check their surveillance video from midnight to 5 a.m. on Thursday to see if it captured anyone on foot during that time. Asked if the police review of Merrill Field’s security footage or that of nearby businesses has yielded any leads, Castro said police “will not discuss evidence in the case at this time.”

Bob Thompson, an Anchorage aviation artist, said pilots who were not affected by the vandalism are donating plane tires to help those hit by the vandals.

Thompson created a Facebook group, Alaska Aviator’s Resource, so people can share information. There’s also a GoFundMe page for those who want to donate money.

Thompson described the nature and scope of the crime as “mindboggling.”

“It’s over a half-a-mile expanse” of the airport that the vandals hit, he noted.

Anchorage police have released new details on the vandalism that struck Merrill Field in the early hours of Thursday morning.

Police say an unknown number of suspects on foot gained access through the southside of the airport on foot. The vandalism is believed to have taken place between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. this morning, the department said.

Investigators are asking businesses along East 15th Avenue and Debarr Road near the airport to check their surveillance cameras for footage that may have captured those responsible for the crimes. Anyone with information that could be of use is asked to contact APD at 786-8900.

Police also say a cash reward is being offered for information submitted anonymously through crimestoppers that leads to an arrest.

An airport manager says some 87 planes have been vandalized at Merrill Field, with the main tires slashed. That's more than one-tenth of the 850 or so aircraft stationed at the airport with the resulting damage estimated at $150,000 and $200,000, said airport manager Paul Bowers.

Workers doing early-morning field checks noticed the tie-down lines of some planes were slack. When they got closer, they noticed that the tires on several dozen planes had been punctured. Anchorage police were notified shortly afterward, at around 6:30 a.m., Bowers said.

"I've never seen vandalism like this in more than 30 years of airport management," he said. "It's outrageous."

Owners of the vandalized planes have been notified. Anchorage police are reviewing surveillance video of the airport to try to identify a suspect.

Whoever committed the vandalism likely drove onto the airport and jumped a fence to get to the aircraft. The crime comes as Merrill Field is undergoing a $5-million security upgrade that will bring more cameras to the airport and tighter security to the 30 or more access gates, Bowers said.

The vandalism has no doubt inconvenienced pilots who were expecting to travel today or over the weekend. Bowers said he's heard from one charter operator who was expecting to fly passengers on a halibut fishing trip on the Kenai.

"He's not happy," Bowers said.

A pair of small airplane tires can run between $3,500 and $4,000, he noted.

"I've never seen anything like this. This is a showstopper because there's commercial operators, there's private planes, and these guys are down until the tires get replaced," said Davee Bronson, a pilot who was at Merrill Field late Thursday morning.

Bronson said he's had a plane at Merrill Field for 25 years. Owning a small plane in Alaska is kind of like having a pickup truck.

"This is how we hunt and fish," he said. "If this happened in the middle of the winter it would be far less egregious because you have time to recover and you could order tires."

Although his plane wasn't affected, Bronson said the fact that the vandalism happened at the start of the busy summer flying season makes the crime hit closer to home.

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - An investigation is underway after more than 80 small planes were vandalized overnight.  The slashed and flattened tires were discovered Thursday morning on 87 or more small planes at Merill Field.  

Security camera footage is being reviewed by the Anchorage Police Department. The manager, Paul Bowers says the airport has more security cameras than any other general aviation airport in the state.  Merrill Field is home to about 830 aircraft. 

Bowers says, "It's not a perfect system, and we don't know if we've captured everything that can be captured at this point."

Bowers says it's ironic that the airport is in the midst of upgrades to it's security system, including it's camera network, fencing and vehicle entrance and exit gates. 

The owners of each plane directly affected have been notified.  The tires for these types of planes can run as high as $2,000 each. Bowers says he has been in airport management for more than 30 years and has never seen anything like this.  "Never heard of it, anywhere in the world."

If you have a plane at Merrill Field airport, now might be a good time to check on it.

Airplane owners arrived at the East Anchorage airfield on Thursday to find tires slashed on scores of planes parked there.

Chris Seaman, who lives in Anchorage, arrived around 6:45 a.m. to fly and got a shock.

"Driving into the parking area, we were like, wow, there's a lot of flat tires out here," he said, "and realized, holy s—, all the tires were slashed."

That included his. He thinks the destruction must have happened Wednesday night.

Ben Merrill, owner of T & B Aircraft Repair, said some tire sets can cost as much as $4,000.

"I've never seen anything like this before. I've been in business 32 years here," Merrill said. He has about 25 customers at Merrill Field and said about half a dozen had their tires flattened. 

Airport officials told the Anchorage Police Department that tires were slashed on about 87 planes but a final count was not yet available, APD spokeswoman Jennifer Castro said in an email. Merrill Field is trying to contact registered owners to inform them to file a police report, Castro said, and APD is investigating.

"We are waiting for all of the victims to file a report so we can get a total figure of the amount of planes damaged," Castro said.

Michael Schoder keeps a plane in a hangar so it wasn't harmed. But he was still floored Thursday morning by the damage to others' planes.

"That's a lot of work, just to walk up to every plane out there," he said. "They were pretty bold."

Also on Thursday morning, just before 10 a.m., a plane ran off the runway at Merrill Field, said Anchorage Fire Marshal Cleo Hill. She said there were no injuries, and fire department crews were at the scene for only seven minutes.

Hill didn't know if the incident was linked to the tire slashing, but a firefighter on the scene said it was unrelated.

Original article can be found here:

More than 80 planes had their tires slashed, amounting to hundreds of tires, overnight at Merrill Field airport.

Anchorage Police Department spokeswoman Jennifer Castro said in an email that police were notified after 9 a.m. Thursday from a person who said their plane had “been vandalized at the Merrill Field Airport and the main wheels had been slashed.”

Management at Merrill Field also reached out to APD, Castro wrote, and said that initial counts approximated 87 aircraft had their tires flattened and that it likely occurred overnight. The airport was working to notify the registered owners of the planes so they can file an online report.

Once APD is able to verify the exact number of planes that were vandalized, they will be able to give an estimated cost of the damage, Castro stated.

Paul Bowers, airport manager at Merrill Field, said he’s never seen anything like it.

He told KTVA that someone made their way into the secure part of the airport and slashed the tires overnight, but that the planes in the open part of the airport weren’t damaged.

The planes were equipped with three tundra tires, big low-pressure tires that allow planes to travel on rough terrain, which cost between $1,000 and $2,000 each. In total, Bowers estimated the cost of the damage at $100,000 to $200,000.

Bowers and Castro said police are investigating the incident and will create one case number for victims of the vandalism to file a complaint.

A local company called Airframes Alaska, makers of the Alaskan Bushwheel, offered to give pilots discounted replacements for their damaged parts.

Original article can be found here: