The pilot of a plane killed in a crash at a US air show has been hailed for preventing more deaths. The plane carrying wing walker Jane Wicker crashed and exploded into flames at the Vectren Air Show at Dayton International Airport in Ohio, killing pilot Charlie Schwenker and Ms Wicker instantly, authorities said, but no spectators were hurt. A video posted on WHIO-TV shows the the 450 HP Stearman biplane turn upside-down as the stuntwoman sits on top of the wing.
The plane then tilts and crashes to the ground, exploding into flames as spectators scream. Ian Hoyt, 20, an aviation photographer and licensed pilot, was at the show with his girlfriend. He said he was taking photos as the plane passed by and had just raised his camera to take another shot. “Then I realised they were too low and too slow. And before I knew it, they hit the ground,” he said. Mr Hoyt could not tell exactly what happened, but said it appeared that the plane stalled and did not have enough air speed. He credited the pilot for steering clear of spectators and potentially saving lives. “Had he drifted more, I don’t know what would have happened,” Mr Hoyt said. On the video, the announcer narrates as the plane glides through the sky and rolls over while Ms Wicker perches on a wing.
Federal records show that the plane was registered to Ms Wicker, who lived in Loudon, Virginia. A post on her Facebook page announced the deaths of her and Mr Schwenker and asked for prayers for their families. The show was cancelled for the rest of the day, but organisers said events would resume today and follow the previous schedule and normal operations. The National Transportation Safety Board said it is investigating the crash. 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. I saw it just go right into the ground and explode.” Then Tran, of Fairfield, said he could see a look of concern on the wing walker’s face just before the plane went down. “She looked very scared. Then the airplane crashed on the ground. After that, it was terrible, man … very terrible.”
Ms Wicker’s website says she responded to a classified ad from the Flying Circus Airshow in Bealeton, Virginia, 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 plane 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. Ms Wicker wrote on her website that she had never had any close calls, adding: “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.”
In 2011, another wing walker, Todd Green, fell 200ft to his death at an air show in Michigan while performing a stunt in which he grabbed the skid of a helicopter. 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. The air show, one of the oldest in the US, usually draws around 70,000 people.