Blue An­gels Jet Crashes at Air Show

Pilot’s Death Is First for Navy’s Aer­o­batic Team Since 1999

The Washington Post Sunday - - National News - By Bruce Smith

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.

PHO­TOS BY MARK AL­MOND — BIRM­ING­HAM NEWS VIA AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

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