The Day a Blue Angel Phantom Took Out Downtown

"On Thursday afternoon and evening, thousands of eyes will move skyward, to watch one of the most spectacular aerobatic teams in the world. The famous United States Blue Angels will fly for Okanagan residents and visitors during the 63rd edition of Canada's greatest water show. The Blue Angels, officially known as the U.S. Navy flight demonstration team, have for 23 years thrilled millions of spectators with spectacular demonstrations of precision acrobatics and formation flying. The manoeuvres, taught individually to every naval aviator during flight training, are exhibited to perfection when flown by the Blue Angels in their Mach 2 Phantoms." - August 6, 1969 - The Kelowna Daily Courier

During a pre air show practice on the morning of the 7th of August; Capt. Vince D. Donile flying Right Wing #2 in his F-4J Phantom was setting up inbound for the Four Plane Cross maneuver when he noticed he had fallen behind in positioning. Compensating for his tardiness, Capt. Donile elected to light up his over 36,000 pounds of thrust with afterburners, quickly accelerating towards the crossing point at show centre.

Unfortunately, Capt Donile was only moments too late when he deselected his burners, and his USN F-4 Phantom announced his error to the world as it shattered the morning air with a deafening sonic boom. Even more unfortunate, was the fact that Capt Donile exceeded the speed of sound directly over the downtown core of Kelowna BC. The shock wave produced by the supersonic jet blew out thousands of windows on homes and shop windows in a radius of the downtown area.  Hundreds of Canadian residents gathered to survey the damage.  Many armed themselves with the first thing they had available to clean up the shattered glass...snow shovels.  

 The United States Navy Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Squadron first flew in 1946, and has been seen by well over 260 million people since their first airshow. The Blue Angels have demonstrated an impressively high safety record of operations...and although breaking the sound barrier is an effective way to announce an airshow, this was a one-time occurrence for the Blues.  One that is not likely to be repeated.    

Sure does make for a good story though...

         

UPDATE - December 2018

We were contacted by USN Captain Vincent Donile USN Blue Angels #2 who gave us a first hand account, and corrected us on some missing aspects of the story.

"There are some additional parts to your story that need to be mentioned. I was so sorry this happened, but Kelowna was now on every TV station in Canada and received publicity that could never duplicated. People came in numbers never anticipated to see the airshow. Every hotel was full and restaurants were packed. Merchants did record sales numbers and the City fathers told me at dinner the next day that they were pleased beyond their wildest expectations with the attendance in the city, and it was the best thing that could have happened for Kelowna. We flew 2 great airshows for them that weekend."
 
We had great fun in the F4J Such a powerhouse. Took a little practice to get it in formation, but it was solid and a great look in airshows. Needless to say it was fast and powerful. I was a little late for that 4 plane cross in Kelowna and was doing mach .99 to catch up, which I did, but I flew over a cold lake and went supersonic for a second or two...
 
"The rest is history."
USN Blue Angels Captain Vincent Donile 

 

 


25 comments


  • Ricky J

    My old man was working construction along the Embarcadero and witnessed CAPT Donile’s F-4J plunge into San Francisco Bay during a practice session on 19 Sept 1969. Onlookers were extremely relieved to see the the jet’s crew floating down on parachutes. Nobody was seriously injured in the accident. As I recall dad telling the story, a couple of the jets appeared to touch prior to the crash of Donile’s #7.


  • Roy Sykex

    When I first arrived in Danang I had some time to spare until my flight north. I watched the F4’s taking off and felt chills all the way down to my toes. What a sight, what a sound!


  • Joseph A Merrill III

    I was at the DuPage County, Illinois airshow the day the Thunderbirds lite a corn field on fire.


  • Dean Roxby

    As soon as I read the headline, I immediately thought “Kelowna!”
    I vaguely recall seeing the aftermath, with many of the windows boarded up the following day.
    My grandmother lived in Kelowna, and we used to come visit for a week or so every summer.
    In 1969 I would have been 8 years old at the time, so it’s all a bit sketchy memories.
    But as mentioned, I do still remember the windows of businesses downtown boarded up with plywood. And someone saying that the crowds were focusing on the planes, and only realized the windows were all broken after the planes had passed overhead.


  • Colonel Curtis Dale PhD, USAF (Ret)

    Although I flew some 6500 hours in the USAF, my final flight was in the back seat of a 4 ship flight, POW/MIA Recognition Day over Clark AB, Philippines, 1985. I had finished my “flying career” and gone on to other commands after flying on the edge of space (70,000 feet for 3 1/2 years in the WB-57F “Longwing,” 3 combat flying tours in Vietnam War, and so many great flying assignments. My friend, the F-4 Wing Commander gave me a final flight. In that flight were 7 full colonels and one Lt. Colonel. We went out to the range for a bit, got a good flight about the area as we waited for the time to make a pass over the big parade ground at Clark. Coming over exactly on time, Ship #3 pulled up in the missing man formation, and I was able to see that as I was in the back of #4. WOW! My son was on the ground with a camera, caught the 4 ship in a perfect picture then the 3 remaining planes passing on in the formation salute. That was my only flight in the F-4, but I got a great picture in my flight suit as a bird colonel, wearing the G-suit. The barf bag doesn’t show in my leg pocket, haha, but I do look cool. The only thing they taught me about the F-4 was how to bail out if necessary,
    Colonel Curtis D. Dale, PhD, USAF (Ret)


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