The roar of at least one fighter jet overhead caught Elaine Julian’s attention.
It was a beautiful, sunny autumn afternoon, and the 75-year-old woman was visiting the park in Moline with her twin 4-year-old great-grandsons. It was about 2:20 p.m. Monday. They watched as the jet left puffs of vapor or smoke, one after another. From her perspective, the jet started zigzagging and seemed to be in trouble.
“Oh my gosh, boys, I think it’s going to crash,” Julian blurted out.
Flames shot out as the jet plummeted – they couldn’t see it as it went behind trees – and they heard a loud boom, apparently when it hit the ground, about 75 miles southeast of Wichita in Elk County.
What happened, officials say, is this: Two Oklahoma Air National Guard fighter jets collided over rural Kansas during an exercise Monday afternoon, leading one of the jets to crash after the pilot ejected.
Both pilots escaped serious injury.
One jet crashed about three miles straight north of Moline, in an area of slightly hilly pasture land, said City Clerk Lisa Townsley.
“You could look right down Main Street ... and see the smoke,” Townsley said.
Col. Max Moss of the Oklahoma National Guard gave this account: Two Oklahoma Air National Guard F-16 Fighting Falcons collided midair during a training exercise Monday afternoon southwest of the town of Howard, causing one of pilots to eject from the aircraft. The other jet managed to return to Tulsa and land safely.
The pilot who ejected was being taken to McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita to be evaluated but appears to be OK. Moss said he couldn’t provide more information.
Although some debris fell in Moline, a town of about 486 people, there were no reports of damage in the town, Townsley said.
The jet was still on fire shortly before 4 p.m. Monday, Townsley said. By a little after after 4, the fire was apparently under control, she said.
She said the Kansas Highway Patrol and Elk County Sheriff’s Office had personnel on scene. Crews from McConnell also provided emergency response.
According to an Associated Press account, the jet that landed at Tulsa International Airport was met on the tarmac by several fire and rescue vehicles.
The jets are assigned to the 138th Fighter Wing based at the airport.
In Moline, after Julian and her great-grandsons heard the crash, they returned to her home not far from the park, and then she saw something strange.
It looked like a big leaf floating down from the sky, about a half hour after the crash.
When it landed in her yard, Julian saw that it was a jagged piece of what looked like charcoal-gray fiberglass. It was about 8 inches long, 4 inches wide and about the thickness of a piece of paper. It smelled like fuel, so she concluded it must have come from the jet.
She notified authorities, and someone from the Air Force came by her house to collect it.
Contributing: Associated Press
Reach Tim Potter at 316-268-6684 or firstname.lastname@example.org.