Remembering The Day One Of The Blue Angels Crashed in Cedar Rapids [WATCH]
An exciting day that turned frightening for tens of thousands of eastern Iowans has been brought back into focus by a new video from a pilot that was there.
It was August 30, 1970. The Blue Angels were performing at the 4th Annual Cedar Rapids Jaycees Air Show at the Cedar Rapids Airport, now the Eastern Iowa Airport.
There were four Blue Angels jets in the air that day, with 35,000 people in attendance, according to the Iowa City Press-Citizen. One of those pilots was 27-year-old Ernie Christensen.
The Des Moines Register reported the Blue Angels performed for only about 40 minutes due to visibility problems. Christensen said a crosswind made it even worse. As the Blue Angels began to land, Christensen heard their challenges on his radio.
When it was Christensen's turn to come down, he made a huge mistake. In his concern for the other Angels, Christensen had forgotten to put down his landing gear.
When Christensen hit the runaway, he immediately knew something was terribly wrong. In a new video he says he thought, "'Oh my god. What happened?"... He goes on to describe the scene: "I'm on fire. The whole bottom half of the aircraft is on fire and I'm in full burner and I am screaming down the runway... I'm looking ahead of me. On this side, I got crowd. On this side, I've got bleachers and crowd... By that time, (I) went off the runway on fire and probably still doing 80 knots (92 miles-per-hour)... and I ejected." What's important to note is that, even though his plane was on fire, Christensen didn't eject until he knew those in the crowd, and his fellow Blue Angels pilots, were out of harm's way.
After ejecting, Christensen would come down, parachute and all, on his back on the airport runaway. His #4 Blue Angels U.S. Navy Phantom jet finally stopped in a cornfield, where it was extinguished by firefighters.
You can watch Ernie Christensen explain his harrowing ordeal in the video below. His description of that day in Cedar Rapids begins at the 14-minute mark. It also includes video footage and photographs of the accident.
If you or someone you know was there that day, please share memories below.