Seconds before a crash at the Cameron Airshow Saturday afternoon, spectators watched the pilot jet his Pitts biplane into the air and spin down.
As the plane got close to the ground shortly before 2 p.m., Ginger Lackman said she and others could hear his engine die.
“It kicked back on for a second and died again,” Lackman told The Star. “And that’s when the crash happened. ... You couldn’t see him hit the trees, but you knew he was so low to the ground that he was going into them.”
Lackman saw no fire, no smoke. Just first responders heading to area.
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“There were a lot of people around us thinking, ‘Did he crash?’” Lackman said. “There was just this shock. ... There were kids all around us. You could hear the kids talking, ‘Did he crash? Where’s he at?’ It was awful.”
Police officials did not release the condition of the pilot, who was taken to a Cameron hospital.
The lack of official word from police or airshow organizers about the pilot caused confusion on social media, with some observers reporting that the pilot had sustained two broken legs. Others twetted that he had died.
Casey Blevins of Lathrop watched as the plane started the stunt. As the pilot flew down toward the ground, Blevins said it sounded like the engine cut out.
Then, “he just bellied down into the trees on the other side of the runway,” Blevins said. “I knew he had crashed.”
Blevins ran toward the area to see what had happened. “I noticed firefighters getting in their trucks and going up there,” he said.
After the biplane hit the ground, a LifeFlight helicopter already at the airport flew to the crash site and stayed there as rescuers freed the 50-year-old pilot from the wreckage.
A website about the pilot’s airshows says he spent 23 years in the Army before retiring in 2007. He compiled about 4,000 hours of military flight time, including more than 400 combat hours flying in Iraq, according to the website.
After the crash, air show officials canceled the remainder of the day show, but the concert and Saturday evening aerial performance were scheduled to go on as planned. Sunday’s performances were expected to go on at the regularly scheduled times, officials said.
Federal aviation authorities responded to Cameron, and the National Traffic Safety Board was notified. Local officials said they will work with those agencies to determine the cause of the crash.
Marvin McKelvy, of Centralia, Mo., spoke with the pilot earlier in the day and had hoped to buy a ride in his red-and-white plane. But the pilot told him he was booked.
Before the crash, the pilot performed leaps, torque rolls and a figure-eight maneuver called “Cuban eights,” McKelvy said. The pilot was about 10 minutes into his routine when he ran into trouble.
The plane flew straight up before kicking over into a spin, which is done with the engine idling, McKelvy said. As the plane dropped, it appeared the pilot wanted to regain speed by diving at a 45-degree down angle, McKelvy said. But the plane was too low.
As McKelvy watched with his wife and another couple, he said: “He’s not going to make it.”
Joshua Green of Pleasant Valley attended with his wife and two young boys. He saw the plane go up, but was pushing a stroller up a hill headed to find a seat when the crash occurred. He and his sons didn’t see it.
“I heard nothing, no boom,” he said. “It was really weird. As he crashed you would think you would hear something.”
Green watched as an ambulance left with lights and sirens and the LifeFlight helicopter flew away.
“I was trying to explain to my 4-year-old what was happening and I said, ‘The plane crashed and the man had to go to the hospital.’”
Staff member Donna McGuire contributed to this story.
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