Patrouille Suisse Mid-Air Collision
Yesterday, two F-5 Tiger aircraft collided over Central Switzerland during a practice flight.
The Patrouille Suisse is one of four Swiss Air Force aerobatic teams. Formed in 1964, the team has been flying F-5 Tigers since 1995. All of the team members are military pilots or air traffic controllers who perform with the Patrouille Suisse in addition to their military role. The Swiss Air Force has 20 F-5E Tiger II aircraft in service, down from a fleet of 98 in 1981.
This video, taken three months ago in March, shows the team departing from Emmen Air Base, a military airfield northwest of Lucerne:
The Tiger F-5 jets were training for the Eidgenössischen Jodlerfest, a yodelling festival that takes place every year on the banks of Lake Zug (Zugersee). The flight display is traditionally a highlight of the festival; in a bit of a humble-brag, the organisers apologised earlier this week for the noise expected from the display.
The videos show four of the F-5 Tigers flying in an echelon formation, in which each unit is stationed behind and to the side of the unit ahead. As they flew over the town of Baar, the #2 aircraft descended unexpectedly, brushing against the nose of the #3 aircraft. An eyewitness watching the display described the F-5 Tiger as falling “like a sack”. The collision triggered the braking parachute of the aircraft in front and knocked the nose cone right off of the rear aircraft.
Eyewitnesses nearby said they heard a large bang as the dislodged nose cone crashed through a window, injuring a person inside the building. Based on this photograph submitted by a reader of the local newspaper, the nose cone is amazingly unscathed.
The braking parachute of the other aircraft deployed but did not cause any damage. It landed on the roof of the Glencore International headquarters in Baar and has since been recovered.
All seven aircraft landed safely at the Emmen Air Base.
An English-speaking man who was watching the practice flights from his balcony described the scene to a local reporter:
And finally, this YouTube video, created as a compilation of the news clips, shows all of the different angles of the collision in a single sequence:
This isn’t the first time that the Patrouille Suisse has suffered a mid-air collision. In 2016, the team experienced their first crash since its formation in 1964. They were again practising for a demonstration flight, this time for the Air Force Open Days airshow at Leeuwarden in the Netherlands. One pilot landed his F-5 successfully; however, the other had to eject, receiving minor injuries after landing in a greenhouse. His F-5 crashed into a pond and was damaged beyond repair. An internal investigation concluded that the cause of the crash was pilot error: the pilot had lost sight of the other aircraft but continued to fly the formation. He was charged with misuse and waste of military equipment.
More recently, a Patrouille Suisse F-5 crashed in 2021 during a combat training missing. The pilot, not a member of the display team, was able to eject in time; the aircraft disintegrated.
This most recent case may be the death knell for the Patrouille Suisse. In 2013, the defence ministry declared that they would no longer be able to fund the aerobatic display squadron; however, the team continued after significant backlash. However, last year, the Swiss military confirmed that they were modernising their combat aircraft, decommissioning the F-5 Tigers in favour of F-35 fighter jets, at a cost of over 6 billion Swiss francs (7 billion USD). At the time, it was unclear whether the Patrouille Suisse would be decommissioned alongside their aircraft or whether the display team would transition for demonstrations using another aircraft.
Today’s Patrouille Suisse flight demonstration for the yodelling festival has been cancelled. The aerobatic display team booked for another fourteen shows this year; for the moment, however, the team is grounded.
A military investigation is in progress.