Fleet Week: Blue Angels show off skills in SF air, service members awe public on land

ByJ.R. Stone and Lena Howland, Ryan Curry, Tim Johns KGO logo
Saturday, October 7, 2023
Blue Angels show off skills in SF air, service members inspire on land
Blue Angels gear up to soar over the San Francisco sky for Fleet Week on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Here's everything you need to know.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- While Fleet Week has been going on for several days in San Francisco, some of the most anticipated events kick off on Friday.

After a practice day Thursday, the Blue Angels are performing Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons. The group is made up of Navy and Marine Corps pilots.

But before they hit the skies, a Parade of Ships took over the Bay.

VIDEO: From loops to smoke streams, Blue Angels soar across San Francisco skies

Check out some of the best moments from SF Fleet Week's 2023 Blue Angels air show in San Francisco.

Parade of Ships:

A fleet of ships came under the Golden Gate Bridge and into the Bay at 11 a.m. on Friday.

SF Fleet Week hosts the largest Parade of Ships on the West Coast, according to its website.

San Francisco Fire Department boats led an escort of the Fleet while shooting jets of water into the air.

You could see the Parade of Ships anywhere from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Bay Bridge and along the San Francisco waterfront.

The parade lasted an hour as the ships made their way into the Bay.

San Francisco Fleet Week 2023 schedule of events

Air Shows:

Fat Albert of the Blue Angels flies at 3 p.m. each day and when you see him, just know Blue Angels Super Hornet planes 1 through 6 are close behind.

"They go up and you can't hear them and you can't hear them until they get right above you, and then just as fast as they come they're gone," said Andrew Beard who works on a fishing boat named Lovely Martha.

In terms of where to watch come actual show time, land is the cheapest option and Alcatraz tour tickets could put you on the island for $53.

On Thursday for the Blue Angels' practice, some watched the Angels practice session from Alcatraz, others took to the docks of Fisherman's Wharf, and many watched in the shadows of the Golden Gate Bridge at the Marina Green.

Many have opted to cruise with Captain Mike Rescino on his boat, the Lovely Martha for around $80 a person.

"There's still a couple boats with availability, but we've actually been sold out for this trip since March," said Rescino.

VIDEO: Meet 2 of the Blue Angel pilots flying over San Francisco during Fleet Week

ABC7 News reporter Luz Pena spoke to two Blue Angel pilots ahead of the shows in San Francisco for Fleet Week.

Honoring Heroes:

Behind the pomp and circumstance of San Francisco Fleet Week, are the stories of heroes.

Every year, San Francisco Fleet Week honors California-based military units and individuals for their actions, which saved civilian lives.

VIDEO: Service members honored at SF Fleet Week for saving civilian lives

Service members at San Francisco Fleet Week describe harrowing rescue missions and heroic acts to save civilians.

"We launched as soon as we could. We got out there and dropped a pair of rescue jumpers at night, and so you take an inherent risk that we mitigated and our guys jumped into the jet black ocean, thunderstorms around," said Lt. Colonel Jeremy Anderson, commander and pilot for the California Air National Guard 129th Rescue Wing.

The California Air National Guard 129th Rescue Wing is being honored for saving more than 1,159 lives to date in missions like this.

Recently, they were called to rescue a Nicaraguan fisherman with a bad head laceration. He was on a boat just off the coast of Costa Rica.

"They were able to stabilize the condition of the fisherman and four days later, he made it to shore and was able to walk off with the assistance of some guidance, some help into an ambulance and get to the hospital to save his life," Anderson said.

Other service members like Navy Special Warfare Rescue swimmer, Christopher Cox, from Modesto are being honored for their actions off-duty.

"There was a gentleman at Balboa Park in San Diego that unfortunately was a stab victim, and I just did what anyone else would have done in that situation, and I helped him," Cox said. "I got a stick from the side and a sweater lace and used that for a makeshift tourniquet to stop the bleeding out of his arm and used pieces of my sweater to put pressure on the rest of his wounds."

A similar story for Sgt. Dennis Mitchell, a U.S. Marine Corps Working Dog Handler who happened to be in the right place, at the right time.

"I was swimming out in Coronado Beach with two other marines, and we were alerted to two distressed individuals who were being pulled by the riptide -- a father and a son -- so we swam out there, swam sideways to get out of the riptide and brought them back to shore," Mitchell said. "I don't know if those two individuals would have made it if I didn't go out there and save their lives."

Armed Forces Experience

Friday was the first air show of the weekend honoring Fleet Week.

Resilient San Franciscans were not going to let the heat stop them from an event many look forward to year round. Thousands hugged the shoreline in front of the Golden Gate Bridge to see the Blue Angels put on a jaw-dropping show.

The roaring sound that graces the San Francisco air returned this year.

The Blue Angels airshow highlights Fleet Week, which residents say is one of San Francisco's main events.

"I love jets. I love the military. Walking around, I thought man, if I was younger, I kind of wish I joined a branch," said Sunnyvale resident Brandon Lechty.

Lechty is one of many embracing the energy of the armed forces by braving out a hot San Francisco day to celebrate an event that began over four decades ago.

"I am just taking it in. I don't really know what to expect. I have never been to an airshow like this before," he said.

VIDEO: Here's what the 'super cool' Navy ship tours at San Francisco Fleet Week have to offer

On board the U.S.S. John P. Murtha, visitors get to watch demonstrations, talk to sailors and marines, and check out military equipment.

It's not just the Navy. All public service groups showed the visitors a glimpse of what they do.

Some were showing if they have what it takes to be in the armed forces.

Children sat inside plane cockpits. Others learned live-saving measures like CPR.

And some toured a mobile hospital put up by the Marines.

"The fact that we can come out here and do this and tell our story and just participate in this great event as our sea services with the Coast Guard and Navy, it is really special for us," said said a participating service member.

Fleet Week officials are also honoring military members for their work in helping the community.

At Friday's ceremony, they acknowledged Christopher Cox, a Navy member who helped someone who had been a victim of stabbing earlier in the year in San Diego.

"There was a gentleman that was just bleeding out on the sidewalk, so I went over to his aid and he was bleeding pretty bad, so I provided medical care," Cox said.

Friday's ceremony was followed by the big event of the day: the Blue Angels airshow.

"It kind of feels like a movie honestly. When I think of jets and the Golden Gate, I think of 'Godzilla' or some movie where jets are flying around, and that is what I am excited for, to experience that in real life," Lechty said.

Thankfully it is not as destructive as a "Godzilla" film, but when you talk about the Blue Angels and the picturesque Golden Gate Bridge, of course, it can feel like a movie.

We asked Fleet Week organizers if they planned to do anything to honor late Senator Dianne Feinstein. They told us this entire weekend is dedicated to her. Feinstein is responsible for bringing Fleet Week and the Blue Angels to San Francisco in the early 1980s.

If you do plan on coming to San Francisco for Fleet Week, you'll want to get to the city early because parking can be a challenge, especially in the Marina Green where there is only neighborhood parking.

Click here for the air show schedule for Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Click here for more information on the Lovely Martha boat.

Now Streaming 24/7 Click Here

If you're on the ABC7 News app, click here to watch live