Pilot, stunt walker killed in plane crash at Ohio air show, authorities say
Published June 22, 2013
| Associated Press
DAYTON, Ohio – A plane carrying a wing walker crashed at an air show and exploded into flames Saturday, killing the pilot and stunt walker instantly, authorities said.
The crash of the 450 HP Stearman happened at around 12:45 p.m. at the Vectren Air Show at Dayton International Airport. No spectators were hurt.
A video posted on WHIO-TV shows the plane turn upside-down as the performer sits on top of the wing. The plane then tilts and crashes to the ground, erupting into flames as spectators screamed.
Ian Hoyt, an aviation photographer and licensed pilot from Findlay, was at the show with his girlfriend. He told The Associated Press he was taking photos as the plane passed by and had just raised his camera to take another shot.
“Then I realized they were too low and too slow. And before I knew it, they hit the ground,” he said.
He couldn’t tell exactly what happened, but it appeared that the plane stalled and didn’t have enough air speed, he said.
“I’m still shaking,” Hoyt said. He said he had been excited to see the show because he’d never seen the scheduled performer — wing walker Jane Wicker — in action.
Federal records show that biplane was registered to Wicker, who lived in Loudon, Va. A man who answered the phone at a number listed for Wicker on her website said he had no comment and hung up.
“It is with sad hearts that we announce that Jane Wicker and Charlie Schwenker were tragically killed while performing at the Vectren Dayton Airshow,” a statement on the official Facebook page for Jane Wicker Airshows. “We ask for your prayers for the families and privacy of all involved and allow them time to grieve and work through these events.”
Airport spokeswoman Linda Hughes and Ohio State Highway Patrol Lt. Anne Ralston confirmed the deaths of a pilot and stunt walker to the AP. The air show said it wasn’t immediately releasing the identities of the dead.
The show was canceled for the rest of the day, but organizers said events would resume Sunday. The National Transportation Safety Board said it is investigating the crash.
“All of a sudden I heard screaming and looked up and there was a fireball,” spectator Stan Thayer of Wilmington, Ohio, told WHIO.
Another spectator, Shawn Warwick of New Knoxville, told the Dayton Daily News that he was watching the flight through binoculars.
“I noticed it was upside-down really close to the ground. She was sitting on the bottom of the plane,” he said. “I saw it just go right into the ground and explode.”
Wicker’s website says she responded to a classified ad from the Flying Circus Airshow in Bealeton, Va., in 1990, for a wing-walking position, thinking it would be fun. She was a contract employee who worked as a Federal Aviation Administration budget analyst, the FAA said.
She told WDTN-TV in an interview this week that her signature move was hanging underneath the plane’s wing by her feet and sitting on the bottom of the airplane while it’s upside-down.
“I’m never nervous or scared because I know if I do everything as I usually do, everything’s going to be just fine,” she told the station.
Wicker wrote on her website that she had never had any close calls.
“What you see us do out there is after an enormous amount of practice and fine tuning, not to mention the airplane goes through microscopic care. It is a managed risk and that is what keeps us alive,” she wrote.
In 2007, veteran stunt pilot Jim LeRoy was killed at the Dayton show when his biplane slammed into the runway while performing loop-to-loops and caught fire.
Organizers were presenting a trimmed-down show and expected smaller crowds at Dayton after the Air Force Thunderbirds and other military participants pulled out this year because of federal budget cuts.
The air show, one of the country’s oldest, usually draws around 70,000 people and has a $3.2 million impact on the local economy. Without military aircraft and support, the show expected attendance to be off 30 percent or more.