Stunt performer, pilot killed in Ohio air show crash

Sun Jun 23, 2013 7:57am IST

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(Reuters) - A woman performing a wing-walking stunt and her pilot were killed on Saturday when their biplane crashed and burst into flames while doing aerobatics at an air show in Ohio, organizers of the event said.

Veteran stuntwoman Jane Wicker and her pilot, Charlie Schwenker, died when their Boeing Stearman crashed around 1 p.m. EDT (1700 GMT) at the Vectren Dayton Air Show in Dayton.

Video footage of the incident replayed on television and the Internet showed that at the time of the crash, the duo appeared to have been executing a stunt in which the vintage plane flips as Wicker is out on one of its wings.

Once the aircraft turns upside down, Wicker maneuvers to sit on the bottom of the now-inverted wing. But in this case the plane smashed into a grassy area before Schwenker could pull out of the stunt.

"Watch this, Jane Wicker sitting on top of the world!" the show's announcer is heard saying just before the crash. Spectators shout and scream as the plane disintegrates and quickly explodes.

"There was a significant explosion. There was smoke and fire. The announcers had the kids look away," said Michael Emoff, chairman of the 39th annual show. "The weather was fine. Clearly something went wrong."

No one on the ground was injured, organizers said.

It was the latest in a string of deadly air show accidents in recent years - including one at Dayton six years ago - that have raised questions over the safety of such events.

In 2011 a modified World War Two-era fighter dubbed "The Galloping Ghost" crashed in front of the grandstand at the Reno Air Races in Nevada, killing 11 people and injuring more than 50 others.

Last year a Soviet-era military training jet crashed and burst into flames during an air show in Iowa, killing the pilot in an accident that took place near a busy interstate highway.

Emoff said that "fairly aggressive acrobatic acts" are common at the show, which has been the scene of at least one other fatal crash. In 2007 a pilot failed to pull out of a loop fast enough and smashed into the ground, he said.

The Federal Aviation Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board and local authorities were investigating the cause of the crash. FAA spokesman Lynn Lunsford said an investigation could take several months to a year to complete.

John Cudahy, president of the International Council of Air Shows, a trade group, said such crashes are becoming less common but still happen twice per year on average.

The show will resume on Sunday, organizers said.

(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson, Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Xavier Briand)

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