CINCINNATI — A plane carrying a wing walker crashed at an air show and exploded into flames Saturday, killing the pilot and stunt walker, authorities said.
The crash of the 450 HP Stearman happened at the Vectren Air Show near Dayton in front of thousands of horrified spectators. No one else was 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.
The dead were identified as wing walker Jane Wicker and pilot Charlie Schwenker on the “Jane Wicker Airshows” Facebook page.
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Ian Hoyt, an aviation photographer and licensed pilot from Findlay, 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 realized they were too low and too slow. And before I knew it, they hit the ground,” he said.
He said it appeared the plane stalled. 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,” Hoyt said. He said he had been excited to see the show because he’d never seen the scheduled performer — Wicker — in action.
On the video, the announcer narrates as the plane glides through the sky and rolls over while the stuntwoman perches on a wing. “Now she’s still on that far side. Keep an eye on Jane. Keep an eye on Charlie. Watch this! Jane Wicker, sitting on top of the world,” the announcer said, right before the plane makes a quick turn and nose-dives.
Federal records show the biplane was registered to Wicker, of Loudon, Va.
The show was at the Dayton International Airport in Vandalia.
The show was canceled for the rest of the day, but organizers said events would resume Sunday and follow the previous schedule with 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,” he said. “I saw it just go right into the ground and explode.”
Thanh 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,” he said. “Then the airplane crashed on the ground. After that, it was terrible, man … very terrible.”
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 full time as a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) budget analyst, the FAA said. She also worked as a freelance writer and had returned to college to finish her degree in finance, according to the website. She had two sons, according to the site, and was engaged to fellow team member and pilot Rock Skowbo, who was not involved in the crash.
Wicker told WDTN-TV in an interview last 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 was 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.
In 2007, veteran stunt-pilot Jim LeRoy was killed at the Dayton show when his biplane slammed into the runway, while performing loop-the-loops, and caught fire.
Organizers were presenting a trimmed-down show and expected smaller crowds 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 about 70,000 people. Without military aircraft and support, the show expected attendance to be off 30 percent or more.