Wing walker and pilot die in crash at Ohio air show

The plane was flying too slow and low before it crashed into the ground and exploded, says horrified spectator

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 June, 2013, 6:18am


Witnesses have described the final terrifying moments before a plane carrying a wing walker crashed at an air show and exploded into flames, killing the pilot and the stunt walker.

The crash of the 450 HP Stearman biplane happened at the Vectren Air Show at Dayton International Airport. No spectators were hurt.

A video shows the plane turn upside-down as the performer sits on top of the wing. The plane then tilts and crashes to the ground, exploding into flames as spectators screamed.

Ian Hoyt, 20, an aviation photographer and licensed pilot, said he was taking photos as the plane passed by and had just raised his camera.

"Then I realised they were too low and too slow. And before I knew it, they hit the ground," he said.

Hoyt could not tell exactly what happened, but he 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," Hoyt said. He said he had been excited to see the show because he had never seen the scheduled performer - wing walker Jane Wicker - in action.

The air show, which closed after Saturday's crash, resumed yesterday in honour of pilot Charlie Schwenker and the veteran stuntwoman, both of Virginia.

The decision to resume the show was an emotional one supported by Wicker's ex-husband, said air show general manager Brenda Kerfoot.

"He said, 'This is what Jane and Charlie would have wanted,"' Kerfoot said. "'They want you to have a safe show and go out there and do what you do best."

Wicker, 44, was a mother of two boys and engaged to be married, Kerfoot said. Schwenker, 64, was married.

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.

Another spectator, Shawn Warwick, said 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."

Than Tran 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, 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 said in an interview last week her signature move was hanging underneath the plane's wing by her feet and sitting on the bottom 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 said.

Wicker wrote on her website 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 2011, wing walker Todd Green fell 60 metres to his death at an air show in Michigan while performing a stunt in which he grabbed the skid of a helicopter.