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Published: Saturday, June 22, 2013 @ 12:47 PM
Updated: Saturday, June 22, 2013 @ 7:04 PM
DAYTON — A stunt pilot and a wing-walking performer were killed in a fiery crash at the Vectren Dayton Air Show Saturday.
“It is with sad hearts that we announce that Jane Wicker and Charlie Schwenker were tragically killed while performing at the Vectren Dayton Airshow. We ask for your prayers for the families and privacy of all involved and allow them time to grieve and work through these events,” said the post.
Saturday’s portion of the air show was cancelled in the aftermath of the crash. Dayton International Airport was closed for 25 minutes, but resumed normal operations in the afternoon.
Director of Aviation for the city of Dayton Terrence Slaybaugh confirmed that two people died in the crash, which occurred at 12:46 p.m. The wreckage of the plane was removed from the field at about 4:45 p.m.
“Obviously this is a tragedy for what is a very small community,” he said.
Wicker was wing walking at the time of the crash, sitting on the underside of the inverted 450 HP Stearman named “Aurora”.
The Ohio State Highway Patrol is investigating along with the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration, which was already on scene for the show.
“Right now there is no conclusive answer about why the accident happened,” Slaybaugh said. He said the investigation could take months.
The plane did a cartwheel and burst into flames as it hit the ground. A fire truck was at the crash within two minutes and extinguished the flames.
“My understanding is there was nothing (emergency responders) could do for the victims of the crash,” said Lt. Mark Nichols. There have been no reports of injuries to anyone on the ground.
“All of a sudden I heard screaming and looked up and there was a fire ball,” said Stan Thayer of Wilmington.
Shawn Warwick of New Knoxville said he was watching the plane 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.”
His wife was getting a drink when the crash happened. “I came back and everybody was just in shock,” said Cara Warwick.
Tonya Whittaker of Dayton said she has attended the air show the last six years and never expected to see anything like this. “It’s nothing you’d ever want to see and it’s instant terror,” she said.
Even those without a clear view of the crash said they knew something was wrong.
“I just saw the flames go up from being further back and you knew it was a bad situation immediately,” said Michael Peresta of Cincinnati.
15-year-old Griffin Hopkins, of Englewood, was with two of his friends when they heard an announcement over the PA about an act going on.
The three teens then turned away from the booth they were looking at and saw a woman outside of a plane.
“She was at the bottom of the plane, but the plane was upside down,” Hopkins said. “They were kind of getting pretty close to the ground there. It was upside down and it kind of curved down.”
Hopkins remembered the announcer saying, “look at that.”
The teens watched for 15 seconds before the plane hit the ground.
“We didn’t know if this was an act and they got out of the plane,” Hopkins said. “At first, we were like did they get out of the plane before it crashed?”
The announcer then told the crowd that this was not a part of the act and that parents should turn their children away.
“We were just in shock and standing there,” Hopkins said. “People were just in shock, everybody was kind of standing there looking at it.”
Vandalia City Councilman Dave Gerhard was seated alongside his family members inside the city’s chalet when the crash happened.
“It seemed like everything was just routine,” Gerhard said. “It was flying upside down. I just nose-dived into the ground. Quick as you can blink your eye there was an explosion. It was a nose dive. Boom. Big Explosion.”
He said the crowd was stunned and some onlookers began to cry.
According to Wicker’s web site wingwalk.org, in addition to performing in air shows she also worked as a budget analyst at the FAA full time, as a freelance writer and had returned to college to finish her degree in finance.
She was engaged to fellow team member and pilot Rock Skowbo, who was not involved in the crash. According to a wedding web site made by the couple they planned to wed on Wicker’s plane while it was in flight at an air show in 2014.
Many spectators were already leaving when show organizers cancelled the show for the day at 1:30 p.m. Organizers said the show will go on as scheduled on Sunday. The show will honor Saturday’s tickets at Sunday’s show.
Just before 3:30 p.m. and again at 4:30 p.m. show staff set off parts of a “wall of fire” that was supposed to be detonated as part of the day’s headlining act. The explosions had nothing to do with the earlier crash.
Wicker was the third act at the 39th Vectren Dayton Air Show after the Wright-B Flyer and the F-86 Sabre.