2 killed in air show had clean safety records
The Associated Press
CINCINNATI — An aerobatic pilot and a wing walker killed in a fiery crash at an air show over the weekend had clean safety records, according to Federal Aviation Administration records released Monday, when new details emerged about the lives and love stories of the fallen performers.
Neither wing walker Jane Wicker, who had a pilot’s license, nor pilot Charlie Schwenker had accidents in the past or was disciplined for any reason, FAA spokesman Roland Herwig said the agency records show. The information was released as the result of a public records request by The Associated Press.
Wicker and Schwenker, both of Virginia, were killed Saturday in a crash captured on video and witnessed by thousands of horrified spectators at the Vectren Air Show near Dayton. Wicker was performing a stunt on the wing of the plane when it suddenly went down, exploding on impact. Federal aviation officials are investigating the crash.
Wicker, a 44-year-old divorced mother of two teenage boys, was engaged to be married next year on top of an airplane. Her fiance, a pilot and airplane mechanic she met three years ago, was learning how to wing walk himself for what the pair called “the world’s most unusual wedding,” according to a website on which they talk of how they met, how he proposed in Las Vegas and their plans.
“Their story has just begun and a lifetime of adventure is in store for this couple,” according to the site wingwalkwedding.com. “Their future looks loftier every day.”
Schwenker, 64, would have celebrated his nine-year wedding anniversary on Tuesday. His wife, Susan Gantz, said it was love at first sight when they went on a blind date 20 years ago. She said her husband was “the most amazing human being.”
“From the day we met, we knew,” Gantz said through tears. “We knew that it was something way, way special. He knew it, and I knew it. I felt like I’d known him my whole entire life.”
Gantz, a nurse who loves gardening, said she and her husband loved going on long walks with their dog, Tucker. Schwenker would stare up at birds and planes in the sky, Gantz at all the flora and fauna along the way.
“I’m the earth person; he was the sky person,” Gantz said.
She said Schwenker, a longtime ski patrolman and a civil engineer passionate about conserving and providing safe water, was no daredevil but an exacting pilot who took no unmeasured risks.
“When you see these guys it seems really risky, but they are the most careful, cautious, safety-conscious people you’ll ever meet,” Gantz said. “If the plane didn’t sound right, if something was off, he wouldn’t fly.
“I absolutely know something went wrong with the plane,” she said.
Friends and family were working on planning funerals. Also planned for Schwenker was a celebration of his life that will include a flyover, his wife said.
Wicker is the third wing walker to die in two years.
From 1975 to 2010, just two wing walkers were killed in the United States, one in 1975 and another in 1993, said John Cudahy, president of the Leesburg, Va.-based International Council of Air Shows.
In 2011, Todd Green fell 200 feet to his death at an air show in Michigan while performing a stunt in which he grabbed the landing gear of a helicopter. That year, Amanda Franklin died two months after being badly burned in a plane crash during a performance in South Texas when the engine lost power. The pilot, her husband, Kyle Franklin, survived.
Cudahy said the recent spike in deaths appears to be a coincidence.
“It’s not entirely an anomaly but not quite as dangerous as it would appear to be,” Cudahy said.
It’s too early to say whether Saturday’s crash will lead to any changes in already high safety standards among wing walkers and their pilots, he said.