SMYRNA, Tenn. (WKRN) – Many people were watching the Blue Angels practice Friday afternoon before a horrible tragedy unfolded before their eyes.
One of the jets crashed into a field next to the historic Sam Davis home, killing the pilot, who the Associated Press has identified as Marine Captain Jeff Kuss.
The Hendrix family was swimming at an apartment complex next to the site, enjoying the water and view from below.
“They were doing their stunts and they were twirling. Well, when they split, the one on the right, he done about four or five twirls right, and he was coming by to go back to the airport,” described Robert Hendrix.
And then it happened.
“All of a sudden, he hit, and the next thing you seen was flames. We were so close you could feel the heat from the flames,” Hendrix added.
He told News 2 he helped first responders put up crime scene tape, describing the crash as “horrific.”
“The flames were a big as a football field and we felt the flames and the heat and it just about knocked everybody so close off in the pool that we were in,” added Gene Hendrix.
Paula Payne works at a store nearby and said she looked out the window after hearing something a little bit louder than before.
“I looked out the window and saw one straight out here come down, hit the ground and explode,” she said. “I could see it vertically down.”
Payne said at first she thought the pilot was practicing something else, a maneuver or a trick.
“But when it got really close, I knew that it was going to hit,” she added. “I said, ‘Oh my god.’”
Another witness, Becca Burgess, said Paula Payne got her attention after noticing the Blue Angels jet was flying really low.
“I looked up and saw it coming down and I thought maybe they were doing dips … Then I saw a huge ball of orange fire, and I’m like, ‘Oh my god, he’s crashed,’” she explained.
When asked what it was like seeing the crash, Burgess replied, “I cried. I mean, the first thought was fear for the pilot.”
She said it was so close that it rattled the windows.
“It’s kind of fun hearing them [practice], but we don’t think… we’re just watching and enjoying it, but we don’t think about they put their lives on the line to do this, to entertain people, and this is what happens.”