Eyewitness: A moment's sense of unease, then a fiery crash

Thousands watch as two killed in biplane crash at Dayton Air Show.
MCT Regional News
Jun 23, 2013

Saturday’s biplane crash at the Vectren Dayton Air Show that took the lives of wingwalker Jane Wicker and pilot Charlie Schwenker was witnessed by thousands, including Dayton Daily News reporter Barrie Barber, who watched from a media area a short distance away.

The wingwalking act on the 450 HP Stearman biplane was the third act of the show. It was preceded by a parachute jump opening; a flight of the Wright B Flyer; and the flight of a F-86 Sabre Korean War-era jet.

Barber described the scene:

“I was standing in a fenced-in area where the media were directed to be. At about 12:45 p.m., I saw Jane Wicker sitting upright on the top wing of the biplane while the plane flew upside down. I had a momentary uneasy feeling the plane was too low when the wing hit the ground. The wing she was sitting on hit the ground first. Before the crash, people were enjoying the show and were laid back.

“With the crash, there was a collective utterance of “Oh no!” and a horrified groan when the plane hit. It burst into flames immediately. The time between when the wing hit and the rest of the plane crashed was a fraction of a second,” Barber said.

“People just stood around in stunned shock. Then the announcers came on and spoke. Within 45 minutes, they announced the cancellation of the air show for the day.”

Other witnesses included Griffin Hopkins, 15, son of Rich Hopkins, communications manager for the city of Vandalia. Griffin was at the show with two friends when they heard an announcement about the wingwalking act.

“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 as 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.”

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 Kara Warwick.

Dave Gerhard, a Vandalia City councilman, was seated with family members watching the show when the crash happened.

“It seemed like everything was just routine,” Gerhard said. Wicker had performed several stunts before the crash occurred.

Wicker’s plane was upside down, but Wicker was sitting upright. “It was flying upside down. It just nose-dived into the ground,” Gerhard said. “Quick as you can blink your eye, there was an explosion. Boom. Big explosion. Everybody was just stunned. There was little kids watching it. People were crying.”

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By Steve Bennish - Dayton Daily News, Ohio (MCT)

©2013 the Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio)

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