Jane Wicker, Charlie Schwenker killed in Ohio air show crash
CINCINNATI (AP/ABC7) - An air show in southwestern Ohio reopened with a moment of silence Sunday, a day after a pilot and wing walker died in a horrifying, fiery crash in front of thousands of spectators.
The Vectren Air Show near Dayton closed after Saturday's crash but resumed Sunday in honor of pilot Charlie Schwenker and veteran stuntwoman Jane Wicker, both of Virginia.
"As a pilot, you accept the fact that accidents do happen - it's an accepted risk we take," said John King, president of the Flying Circus Airshow, which had trained Wicker.
"They were both dedicated to flying and the act. They were true, ultimate professionals," King said. "I don't know of anyone who could have done any better than what they were doing."
Schwenker and Wicker were killed when their plane crashed suddenly in front of spectators who screamed in shock as the aircraft quickly was engulfed in flames. No one else was hurt.
Video of the crash showed their plane gliding through the sky before abruptly rolled over, crashing and exploding into flames. Wicker had been sitting atop the 450 HP Stearmans.
The decision to resume the show a day after the crash 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, of Bristow, Va., was a mother of two boys and engaged to be married, Kerfoot said. Schwenker, 64, of Oakton, Va., was married.
The cause of the crash is unclear and the conclusion of an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board likely will take months. The NTSB planned a mid-afternoon news conference Sunday to discuss the accident.
Debris from the crash was cleared Saturday after investigators collected what they needed.
Wicker, a seasoned wing walker, was performing Saturday at the Dayton air show for the first time.
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 as a Federal Aviation Administration budget analyst, the FAA said.
In one post on Wicker's site, the stuntwoman explains what she loved most about her job.
"There is nothing that feels more exhilarating or freer to me than the wind and sky rushing by me as the earth rolls around my head," says the post. "I'm alive up there. To soar like a bird and touch the sky puts me in a place where I feel I totally belong. It's the only thing I've done that I've never questioned, never hesitated about and always felt was my destiny."
She also answered a question she said she got frequently: What about the risk?
"I feel safer on the wing of my airplane than I do driving to the airport," she wrote. "Why? Because I'm in control of those risks and not at the mercy of those other drivers."
According to her website, Wicker was to perform at the Front Royal Airshow on September 14.
A program for the air show touted Wicker as performing "heart-stopping" feats and who did moves that "no other wing walker is brave enough to try."
"Wing riding is not for this damsel; her wing walking style is the real thing," the program said. "With no safety line and no parachute, Jane amazes the crowd by climbing, walking, and hanging all over her beautiful ... aircraft.
"Spectators are sure to gasp as this daredevil demonstrates in true form the unbelievable art of wing walking," it says.
On the video of the crash, an announcer narrates as Wicker's plane glides through the air.
"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.
Some spectators said they knew something was wrong because the plane was flying low and slow.
Thanh Tran, of Fairfield, said he could see a look of concern on Wicker'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."
In 2011, wing walker Todd Green fell 200 feet to his death at an air show in Michigan while performing a stunt in which he grabbed the skid of a helicopter.
In 2007, veteran stunt pilot Jim LeRoy was killed at the Dayton show when his biplane slammed into the runway while performing loop-to-loops and caught fire.
Organizers were presenting a trimmed-down show and expected smaller crowds at Dayton 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 around 70,000 people and has a $3.2 million impact on the local economy. Without military aircraft and support, the show expected attendance to be off 30 percent or more.