The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds were forced to end the Atlantic City Airshow early Friday after one of the pilots struck a bird. Within 10 to 15 seconds of the strike, the team decided to skip the final pass, airshow boss David Schultz said.
“They were in the last two minutes of their routine. Between the bird strike and the haze throughout the day, it wasn’t worth trying to finish,” said Schultz, whose company, David Schultz Airshows, coordinates the event. “In my briefings I always tell them common sense prevails. It’s never worth pushing it if something doesn’t feel right.”
Those on the beach or Boardwalk near the show’s center in front of Boardwalk Hall heard an announcer say that that one of the planes had encountered a problem around 2:25 p.m. Shortly after, an announcement was made that the team had decided to shorten the performance, prompting conversation among some spectators who were unsure of what was going on.
Ron Westling, 70, said he and his five family members noticed from their vantage point near Boardwalk Hall. At that point, however, the hiccup simply capped off what was an underwhelming experience for Westling, a retired Army sergeant who lives in Branchville near Sussex County Airport.
“We come for the noise,” Westling said. “We were expecting a little more noise. We go there for the action and the feeling of jets in the air. and there were a lot of pauses. It just didn’t seem the same as the last one we went to.”
The show did, however, give Westling and his wife, Betsi, a chance to see F-16 Falcons and other aircraft they don’t normally see on their frequent trips to watch the planes come into the airport near their home.
The show concluded with the Thunderbirds’ performance — one 13-year-old Dan Jamison was most looking forward to.
“They’re awesome, how they fly so close to each other,” said Jamison, of Horsham, Pa.
Jamison got to see the Thunderbirds do all but the last bit of their act.
After being cut short, the planes landed safely at the New Jersey Air National Guard’s 177th Fighter Wing in Egg Harbor Township, Schultz said.
Hazy skies were a challenge for the pilots throughout the day, though in years past the haze has been worse. Birds also proved to be a problem on at least one other occasion Friday. The Thunderbirds missed a pass early on in their performance after a bird got in the way, announcers said.
“Safety has to be the highest priority,” Schultz said. “Sometimes there are a number of factors that get in the way and things just don’t feel right. If we were to have an accident, everyone would remember that. But things like this — missing a final pass — no one remembers things like that at the end of the day.”
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