Friday, March 7, 2014
The Associated Press
CINCINNATI — 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, which closed right after Saturday's crash, 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 employed 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."
Wicker and Schwenker were killed when their plane crashed in front of spectators who screamed in shock as the aircraft became 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, performing at the Dayton show for the first time, 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, who lived in 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. Investigators picked through the debris of the crash site Saturday.
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," the post says. "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."
A program for the air show touted Wicker as a performer of "heart-stopping" feats 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.
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