The prestigious Patrouille Suisse display team is a popular ambassador for Switzerland and its air force. On Thursday, the team suffered the first serious incident in its 52-year history, when two F-5 display jets collided near a Dutch air base.
The mid-air collision occurred near the northern city of Leeuwarden, about 150 kilometres (90 miles) north of Amsterdam. One jet crashed in a pond and the pilot ejected before impact, and the other landed safely with a damaged tail. The cause of the accident is unknown and an investigation is underway. The Swiss plane was due to take part in an air show this weekend.
In an interview with Swiss public television, SRF, Air Force Commander Aldo Schellenberg described Patrouille Suisse as an “ambassador for the Swiss air force both here and abroad”. He said it also helped attract young people interested in an aviation career.
Three years ago, a defence ministry plan to clip the wings of Patrouille Suisse for financial reasons sparked controversy. A parliamentary committee had been told by Defence Minister Ueli Maurer that there was no longer sufficient funds to continue the six-strong squadron of F-5 Tiger fighter jets beyond 2015. The idea was later dropped.
Schellenberg rejected the notion that the display team’s future had ever been called into question by Maurer, saying he had been “misunderstood”.
Last October an F/A-18 fighter belonging to the Swiss air force crashed in France. The pilot was able to eject to safety. The most recent fatality involving the Swiss air force was in October 2013, when a fighter plane crashed into a cliff wall in Alpnachstad, canton Obwalden. The pilot and an air force doctor both died. It was later concluded that the accident had been caused by pilot error.
Schellenberg rejected accusations that the three most recent accidents involving Swiss air force jets was an indication that there is trouble managing the fleet. He said accidents were uncommon and that there were no safety problems in the air force.