Blue Angels Jet Crashes at Air Show
Pilot’s Death Is First for Navy’s Aerobatic Team Since 1999
BEAUFORT, S. C., April 21 — A Navy Blue Angels fighter jet crashed during an air show Saturday, plunging into a neighborhood of small homes and trailers and killing the pilot, the county coroner said.
It was the first death of a Blue Angels pilot since 1999.
Witnesses said the Navy aerialdemonstration team, made up of six planes, was flying in formation at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort when one jet dropped below the tree line and crashed, sending up clouds of smoke.
Eight people on the ground were injured by the wreckage.
William Winn, the county emergency management director, said several homes were damaged by metal and plastic debris from the plane. At least one home was set on fire.
Raymond Voegeli, a plumber, was backing out of a driveway when the jet ripped through a grove of pine trees, dousing his truck in flames and debris. He said the wreckage hit “ plenty of houses and mobile homes.”
“ It was just a big fireball coming at me,” said Voegeli, 37. “ It was just taking pine trees and just clipping them.”
The pilots were doing a maneuver that involved all six planes joining from behind the crowd to form a Delta triangle, said Lt. Cmdr. Garrett D. Kasper, the Blue Angels’ spokesman. One plane did not rejoin the formation.
The name of the pilot will not be announced by the Navy until relatives have been notified of the death, said Lt. Cmdr. Anthony Walley, another pilot on the team. Newspapers reported that it was Lt. Cmdr. Kevin J. Davis, who pilots the Blue Angels’ No. 6 jet.
Davis, of Pittsfield, Mass., joined the Blue Angels in September 2005, according to the team’s Web site.
“ Our squadron and the entire U. S. Navy are grieving the loss of a great American, a great naval officer and a great friend,” Walley said.
The crash took place in the final minutes of the air show, Walley said.
John Sauls, who lives near the crash site, said the F/ A- 18A Hornets were banking back and forth before one disappeared and a plume of smoke shot up.
“ It’s one of those surreal moments when you go, ‘ No, I didn’t just see what I saw,’ ” Sauls said.
Joe Farrell, who had a plane on display at Saturday’s air show, told the Beaufort Gazette that the Navy jet largely appeared in control.
“ It looked like it was in absolute control all the way into the ground,” he said. “ We watched the guys try to reform. He made the turn and slid right into the ground.”
The Navy said it will investigate to determine the cause of the crash.
More than 100,000 people were expected to attend the Beaufort Air Show, 35 miles northwest of Hilton Head Island. The Blue Angels were the main attraction.
The Blue Angels were formed in 1946 to promote public interest in naval aviation. The team’s eight pilots are considered to be the finest in the service.
The team performs nationally at air shows, spring through fall, executing highly synchronized aerial acrobatics that bring the fighters within feet of each other at high speed. Saturday’s show was the first in the team’s 2007 season.
Twenty- four Blue Angels pilots have died in accidents, including the one killed Saturday. In 1999, two were killed when an F/ A- 18 crashed into a stand of pine trees in Georgia as the team practiced for a show.
Kasper said the team will return to Florida on Sunday afternoon. “ We will regroup,” he said.
The Navy’s Blue Angels perform the last maneuver before plane No. 6 (just above center) crashed in the final moments of the air show, killing the pilot.
Smoke rises after a Navy Blue Angels jet crashed into a residential area during an air show at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, in South Carolina. Eight people on the ground were injured.