Dayton Air Show: Inquiry blames speed, wet runway for Thunderbirds crash

CINCINNATI -- A Thunderbirds pilot was going too fast in bad weather and without enough stopping distance when landing on a wet runway, causing a crash that destroyed a $29 million F-16D jet during practice for the Dayton air show, the U.S. Air Force concluded Friday.

The pilot and crew member were treated June 23 after their two-seat plane ran off the runway and flipped over at Dayton International Airport. The Air Force accident investigation board report stated that the pilot suffered multiple injuries, while the crew member was uninjured.

Details of the pilot’s injuries weren’t released Friday, although at the time of the accident, authorities said he had an injured leg and lacerations.

Capt. Erik Gonsalves was hospitalized after the Dayton accident. Air Force spokeswoman Maj. Lindy Singleton said Friday he has resumed traveling with the Thunderbirds and narrating shows, but hasn’t been cleared medically to fly.

She declined to say whether he faces possible disciplinary action as a result of the investigative board’s findings. A Thunderbirds spokesman said Gonsalves was traveling with the team Friday and wasn’t available for comment.

The report also cites failure to follow procedures and environmental conditions as contributing factors to the accident. The team was practicing on a rainy afternoon with crosswinds, and the report stated that there was standing water on the cockpit’s canopy that affected vision. The report also said proper braking procedure wasn’t followed.

The probe’s conclusions came after an interview with the pilot and with first responders, along with flight data and technical analysis, the investigative board stated.

The Thunderbirds air demonstration team canceled its scheduled appearances at the annual two-day air show after the accident, and organizers said attendance fell.

The Thunderbirds are assigned to Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.

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