Thunderbird Down

Stephanie Compton, Communications Supervisor, Colorado State Patrol

On June 2, 2016 the U.S. Air Force Academy was hosting the U.S. President for the 2016 commencement exercise and the Air Force Thunderbirds were in town for their flyover of the graduation ceremony. Beginning at 0800 Communications Officer Garcia juggled many extra Troopers as they cleared the affected roadways from Peterson AFB to the Air Force Academy.

There was a LoJack hit, a man with a gun, a protester, a few crashes, and several broken down vehicles in the vicinity of the President’s planned route that C/O Garcia handled with skill. At the conclusion of the ceremony as the President’s motorcade was leaving the AFA and heading south on I-25 the Pueblo Regional Communications Center received a call that a Thunderbird went down at the corner of Fontaine Blvd. and H21 (Powers) on the east side of Colorado Springs. The pilot had ejected and the plane was intact in a field. Only a single Trooper could respond to the area due to Presidential security and the necessary manned road closures.

Almost immediately pedestrian crowds formed and traffic came to a complete stop in the area of the crash. The total chaos that ensued was handled very skillfully by veteran C/O Garcia. What became clear quite quickly was that due to the location of the downed plane none of the other on duty Troopers would be able to arrive to the crash scene in a timely manner if they could arrive at all. She calmly realized she needed outside agency help with traffic control so asked a co-worker to notify Fort Carson MP’s, CDOT, El Paso County and CSPD. She recognized the need for medical to help the pilot so she requested someone else call El Paso County for fire/rescue. She also realized that she needed to make a myriad of notifications to the Communications Supervisor, Troop Sergeant, Troop Captain and others in order to get additional assistance from the road.

C/O Garcia’s years of experience, calm demeanor in the face of chaos and ability to prioritize and multi-task allowed her to work this incident with exemplary skill.