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 around 12:45 p.m. 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.
John Keys of Elyria was near the fence with his wife, Linda, and neighbors who made the trek to Dayton for the show. The plane crashed right in front of them, and they watched as an explosion and fire devastated the wreckage.
“It looked like the two people on the plane died immediately,” said Keys, an Elyria city prosecutor. “It was such a horrible thing for anyone who was here and saw the plane go down.”
Two or three minutes later, fire and rescue crews rushed to the scene and sprayed the fire with foam.
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. 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 — wing walker Jane 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 nosedive.
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.
One of the pilots listed on Wicker’s website was named Charlie Schwenker. A post on Jane Wicker Airshows’ Facebook page announced the deaths of Wicker and Schwenker and asked for prayers for their families.
A message left at a phone listing for Charles Schwenker in Oakton, Va., wasn’t immediately returned.
Dayton International Airport spokeswoman Linda Hughes and Ohio Highway Patrol Lt. Anne Ralston confirmed that a pilot and stunt walker had died but declined to give their names. The air show also declined to release their identities.
Keys said Saturday’s show was only the second time he had been to Dayton. He frequents the Cleveland show because it is closer.
“It would have been a good show. There was a great crowd,” he said. “They canceled the rest of the show and they should have out of respect. It was just horrible.”
The show was canceled for the rest of the day, but organizers 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,” 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 wrote on her website that she had never had any close calls.