Air Show crash kills two

Monday, June 19th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WILLOW GROVE, Pa. (AP) — A military pilot and radar intercept officer aboard a F-14 Tomcat died when their jet crashed as horrified air show spectators watched from their porches and pools.

The jet was taking part in the second-to-last performance at the Willow Grove 2000 Sounds of Freedom air show Sunday when it banked steeply, wavered and plunged into a wooded area about 100 yards from the jet's base about 4:43 p.m., authorities said.

The fighter was part of Squadron 101 based at Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach, Va., said Mike Maus, a spokesman for the Naval Air Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, in Norfolk, Va.

The names of the victims were not immediately released.

Though the plane sent flames and smoke billowing from a wooded area at the end of the runway, no civilian injuries were reported and no structures were hit, said Levent Aydin of Montgomery County emergency dispatch services.

Aydin said three emergency personnel were treated for injuries at the crash scene, including a military firefighter who was transported back to the base 15 miles north of Philadelphia.

It was the second deadly crash of a military plane at an air show in the past three months. In March, an Air Force F-16 fighter jet crashed while performing maneuvers as part of an air show near Kingsville Naval Air Station in Texas, killing the pilot.

Residents who thrill to the performances of the jet fighters but know the risks involved saw their worst fears realized.

``Every time the air show comes to town, I just say 'Stay up there, stay up there,''' said Marie Dardaren, who often watches the hot glow when fighters climb steeply from the runway two blocks from her house.

The Tomcat apparently was displaying a landing ``wave-off'' maneuver, coming in at slow speed to make a landing and then circling for another attempt as if waved off from the first, said KYW-AM reporter Al Novak, who was at the show and witnessed the crash.

Bruce Baldus, 34, said he was in the crowd watching as the plane turned, faltered, and sank toward the trees.

``When he got below the trees, you could tell he was in trouble. It looked like it fell out of the air,'' Baldus said. ``It was only a second, and then there was smoke and a huge fireball.''
Maus said a panel of senior naval aviators will be convened to investigate the cause of the accident. The Federal Aviation Administration also will be involved since the crash happened on civilian property.

Debi Mullen said the crash frightened her 5-year-old son, Kyle, who eagerly watches planes at the base and idolizes the flyers. They were sitting by the pool with other family members watching the show when the plane plowed into the woods behind the house.

``The leaves were flying, the debris was flying,'' Mullen said. And as smoke rose from the woods, she said, ``You could smell the fuel.''

``He (Kyle) said to me, 'Who's the bad guy who hit him out of the sky?' said Mullen, 37, her eyes brimming with tears. ``I said, 'There is no bad guy. He fell. It was an accident.' What a tragedy.''