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Horrific stunt plane crash at Ohio air show kills wing walker, pilot

A stunt plane carrying a wing walker — an aerial daredevil who traverses the length of an aircraft during flight — crashed into a field and erupted in a ball of flames during an air show in western Ohio on Saturday. NBC's Michelle Franzen reports.

A biplane carrying a wing-walker – an aerial daredevil who traverses the length of an aircraft during flight – crashed into a field and burst into a ball of flames during an air show in Ohio, killing the stunt performer and the pilot, organizers of the event said.

Jane Wicker and her veteran pilot, Charles Schwenker, were killed after their biplane slammed into the ground just before 1 p.m. Saturday at the 39th Vectren Air Show at Dayton International Airport, according to NBC news affiliate WDTN in Dayton.

Disturbing video footage obtained by WDTN shows the vintage biplane turn upside-down as Wicker positions herself on the wing. The announcer narrates Wicker’s acrobatics as the plane soars above a grassy field.

“Keep an eye on Jane. Keep an eye on Charlie. Watch this! Jane Wicker, sitting on top of the world,” the announcer can be heard saying—just seconds before the plane suddenly loses control and abruptly dips and dives into the ground.

The bystanders arrayed along the landing strip can be heard screaming as the biplane erupts into flames and thick plumes of smoke.

Federal records show that the Boeing Stearman was registered to Wicker, who lived in Loudon, Va., according to The Associated Press.


Wicker’s website says she took up her risky hobby in 1990 after responding to a classified advertisement from the Flying Circus Airshow in Bealeton, Va., and within years was among an elite cadre of high-altitude daredevils.

She was reportedly a contract budget analyst with the Federal Aviation Administration, according to the AP.

She told WDTN in an interview Friday that her signature move was dangling underneath the plane’s wing by her feet and perching on the bottom of the wing while it glided upside-down.

“I’m never nervous or scared because I know if I do everything as I usually do, everything’s going to be fine,” Wicker told the station.

In a September 2011 blog post, Wicker wrote that she was acutely aware of the risks of wing walking – she did not use a tether, harness or safety line while performing stunts atop the plane. But her passion brought her great satisfaction.

“Why do I do this? 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,” Wicker wrote.

“What about risk? Everything we do always has an element of risk. The media asks this all the time and my answer is always the same. I feel safer on the wind of my airplane than I do driving to the airport,” she added.

Wicker, a mother of two boys, was engaged and planned to be married on the wing of the plane, according to WDTN.

A statement uploaded to a Facebook page called "Jane Wicker Airshows" read: “It is with sad hearts that we announce that Jane Wicker and Charlie Schwenker were tragically killed while performing at the Vectren Dayton Airshow.”

Thanh V Tran / AP

Flames erupt from a plane after it crashed while performing with a wing walker at the Vectren Air Show, Saturday, June 22, in Dayton, Ohio.

Saturday’s horrific accident left witnesses stricken and stunned.

Shawn Warwick of New Knoxville, Ohio, told the Dayton Daily News that the biplane appeared to be flying unusually low to the ground before plummeting.

“I noticed it was upside-down really close to the ground. She was sitting on the bottom of the plane,” Warwick told the newspaper. “I saw it just go right into the ground and explode.”

Authorities did not immediately specify a cause of the crash. The Federal Aviation Administration and other agencies are investigating the incident, according to a statement from show organizers.

No spectators were reported injured.

In 2007, veteran stunt pilot Jim LeRoy was killed at the Vectren Air Show after his biplane crashed into the runway while performing stunts and burst into flames.

NBC News' Matthew DeLuca contributed to this report.

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