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4 pilots on restricted duty after low pass over stadium

Jeff Martin and Steve Reed
Associated Press

Atlanta — Four Georgia-based pilots are restricted from flight duties after their attack jets swooped low over a football stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina, as the Carolina Panthers practiced, U.S. Air Force officials said.

Four A-10C Thunderbolt IIs flew at low altitude over Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte on Monday, and the pilots will be on restricted duty pending results of an inquiry into the incident, officials at Moody Air Force Base in south Georgia said.

“As professional airmen we take aviation safety very seriously,” Air Force Col. Thomas Kunkel said in a statement to The Associated Press.

“As we look into the circumstances of this incident we are working with the FAA to ensure both civil and military aviation instructions were complied with,” Kunkel added.

The pilots were low enough that they were able to wave at the players, said Carolina Panthers Coach Ron Rivera, who witnessed the flyover.

“I like the fact that they waved at us as they went over,” Rivera said.

The team was “most certainly caught off-guard,” as players wondered what was happening. But Rivera said it was “pretty awesome” to see.

Some Air Force pilots do flyovers at NFL games, but the Charlotte team had no knowledge of any practice flyovers, Panthers spokesman Steven Drummond said.

“The Air Force provides flyover support to the NFL to showcase our airpower and aircraft capabilities,” Moody officials said in a statement.

However, the pilots from the Georgia base on Monday were “conducting routine navigation training from Charlotte to Moody” and were not participating in the Air Force’s partnership with the NFL to provide flyovers, the statement said.

The planes had taken off from Charlotte Douglas International Airport moments before flying over the stadium, Air Force officials said. They are part of the 74th Fighter Squadron at Moody Air Force Base, which is near Valdosta, Georgia.

The aircraft are used to support troops on the ground, and are sometimes known by their nickname “Warthogs,” according to descriptions from Moody.

Their maneuverability and capability for short takeoffs and landings help them operate near front lines in battle. The planes can carry a variety of bombs, missiles, rockets and guns to defeat a wide variety of targets on the ground, including tanks, officials said.