October 28, 1999 | Return to South Georgia Online

Blue Angels' plane crashes near Valdosta



There have been five other military crashes near Moody Air Force Base since 1990.

In the past nine years, five F-16s and two A-10s have crashed. Thursday, during practice maneuvers an F/A-18 (like the one pictured above) from the Navy Blue Angels demonstration team crashed resulting in the deaths of two pilots aboard.

The F-16 accidents caused one civilian fatality and two pilot deaths as a result of the crashes.

Here is a chronology of Moody crashes in the past nine years:

  • April 21, 1997: Following the loss of power to his engine, which was later determined to be a failure of a fuel flow sensor, 1st Lt. Joseph Thomas, of the 68th Fighter Squadron, ejected from an F-16C near Pearson.
  • April 17, 1997: After striking an uncharted radio tower, Capt. Brett Davis ejected from his spiraling A-10 just moments before it crashed in a fireball into the ground.
  • Aug. 29, 1995: An A-10 piloted by 1st Lt. Greg Gilbreath crashed in rural Lowndes County catering Georgia 135 and causing a small forest fire. Gilbreath parachuted to safety and was unharmed.
  • April 4, 1991: An F-16C "Fighting Falcon" piloted by Georgia native Capt. William C. McGowan crashed in rural Echols County. McGowan was not injured. The control stick malfunctioned, a USAF investigation found.
  • May 25, 1990: A Moody jet crashed into a Pearson home killing the pilot and a housekeeper. Maj. Archie E. Stuart and Marian Lanier were killed when Stuart's jet crashed and skidded into Lanier's home. Stuart was credited in an subsequent USAF investigation with narrowly missing a school. The fuel system on the jet malfunctioned causing the crash.

    Moody pilots have been flying F-16s since 1987, and A-10s have been operating out of Moody Air Force Base since January.

    Thursday's incident marked the first fatality for a Blue Angels team since July 13, 1985, when Lt. Cmdr. Michael Gershon died following a crash caused when two aircraft collided in mid-air.

  • By SHELBY G. SPIRES

    MOODY AIR FORCE BASE -- An aerial accident today claimed the lives of two Blue Angels pilots, a Navy official said.

    The names are being withheld pending notification of the families.

    Navy Cmdr. Jack Papp said the crash occurred about 12:20 p.m. near Moody, when the Blue Angels aircraft experienced some sort of trouble and then moments later crashed.

    Eyewitnesses at the scene reported a loud sound was heard, then it was followed by a crash. No parachutes were seen coming from the direction of the aircraft.

    Reports at the scene indicated the number three aircraft and was circling to land on the Moody runway when the crash occurred. The aircraft plummeted into the ground about two miles northeast of Moody, near New Bethel and Cooper roads.

    "They were coming around in a diamond formation and then one veered off to the left," said eyewitness Carlton Windham, who lives on Walkers Crossing near the runway. "It was very unusual to see him veer off like that. We were driving away and we looked up and all we could see was black smoke. There was no sound or anything. It didn't even shake the ground."

    Windham was asked to leave the area shortly after the crash. Other reports have placed the Blue Angels in a landing pattern.

    "It didn't seem like reality," said eye witness Russell Craven.

    The Blue Angels were flying familiarization flights at Moody for an air show which was to be held at the base this weekend. From accounts, it appears the jets were coming in for either a landing or low level overflights at Moody when the accident happened. It's standard operation procedure for Navy aircraft to land on runways as if it were an aircraft carrier. An exhibition for local media had been scheduled for Thursday afternoon.

    The Navy had few details to release, other than a crash had occurred and two pilots had been killed in the incident.

    "At this point we are not aware as to what caused the crash. There will be an investigation, of course," Papp said. "Obviously we are working to investigate this."

    The Blue Angels had performed at an air show near Little Rock, Ark., last weekend. The exhibition team had only two more shows scheduled for the remainder of the year -- a performance at Jacksonville Naval Air Station scheduled for Nov. 6-7 and a final performance at their home base of Pensacola Naval Air Station on Nov. 13-14.

    In Valdosta, flags at all city buildings will fly at half-staff over the weekend in remembrance of the two members of the Navy's Blue Angels precision flying team that lost their lives Thursday.

    "The city is very saddened by this, to say the least," said Valdosta Mayor Jimmy Rainwater. "I am going to ask that the flags at all the city buildings be flown at half-staff through Sunday in recognition and remembrance of the two pilots. We all need to remember them and their families."

    The Blue Angels have used the F/A-18 since 1986. The A and C model are one seat version of the aircraft. The B and D models are two seat trainers. The Blue Angels use the two seat version to transport other pilots from show to show and to fly VIPs on demonstration flights.

    The team has been performing since 1946.

    The last crash involving the Blue Angels occurred in 1990. The last fatality involving a Blue Angels exhibition happened July 13, 1985, in Niagara Falls, N.Y., when Lt. Cmdr. Michael Gershon died following a crash caused by a midair collision.

    The last fatality near Moody occurred when an F-16 crashed into a house near Pearson. Two people died in that 1990 accident including pilot Maj. Archie E. Stuart and housekeeper Marian Lanier.

    Times Staff Writers Tony Jenkins and Taylor Bright contributed to this report.

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