Thousands of spectators at an Iowa air show gasped in horror on Saturday as a Soviet-era military jet nosedived and crashed into a field, killing the pilot.
The pilot, a member of the Hoppers civilian jet demonstration team, now identified as Glenn A. Smith of Frisco, Texas, was killed Saturday, during the annual Quad City Air Show in Davenport, IA., localWCFcourier news reported.
A home video taken by a spectator showed what appeared to be three Soviet-era retired military jets flying in formation when Smith's nearly 30-year-old high performance L-39 Albatross jet trainer nosedived, after failing to pull out of a steep 45-degree bank.
Moments later, the plane crashed into an alfalfa field a few hundred yards from buildings in an industrial park, north of Interstate 80 around 1:25 p.m.
"Ladies and gentlemen, please keep your seats," an announcer can be heard saying on the video posted on YouTube seen below in full. (WARNING: Distressing Footage)
"We have training and personnel on board to handle these situations."
Davenport’s Assistant Police Chief Don Schaeffer said the pilot did not have time to eject before it crashed. The plane’s ejection seat mechanism was found intact.
“He never had an opportunity to come out of it,” he said.
Smith died on impact. No one else was in the plane. He was 59 years old.
The impact sent a huge fireball into the sky, followed by a cloud of gray smoke just southwest of the Davenport Municipal Airport, from stands where thousands of spectators watched in horror some with their young children, according to The Quad-City Times. Nobody on the ground was hurt.
But witnesses say they are in shock.
"We saw two of them strip away like they were going to do another maneuver, and the one was headed toward, like, back towards where it came from, and he went nose-down into the ground and burst into flames," one witness told ABC 57 News.
Another witness told Quad City local news station WQAD that she saw three aircraft flying in apparent formation when the plane on the right side began to drift sideways. The witness said the plane then exploded in the air. She saw a second mid-air explosion, then a third when the plane hit the ground southwest of the airport.
The show ended for the day at about 3 p.m. Saturday "out of respect for our fallen aviator," a statement posted on Quad City Air Show website read.
Flights resumed as scheduled at the air show for Sunday, September 2. A squadron of planes flew over the crash site Sunday in the "missing man" formation before the air show continued, according to WQAD news.
Schaeffer estimated that parts of the plane were strewn over an area that measured about 75 by 220 yards, or a tenth of a mile.
“There are literally hundreds of pieces of debris scattered across the field,” Schaeffer said. “We want to collect and catalog each piece so that if the FAA or some other investigating body wants to rebuild the plane, they can do it.”
Schaeffer also explained that he had no information about what may have caused the crash, Dallas-Fort Worth's NBC 5 reported.
"We don't see anything mechanical at this time, but we want to make sure we have it documented, have it collected," Schaeffer said at a news conference Saturday. "Obviously, it's wide open; it could be mechanical, it could be pilot error, but we don't see anything of that nature. [We] want to look at it forensically, do an autopsy. Maybe we can do something if it was medical."
The Federal Aviation Administration and The National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash. The Quad-City Times says senior air safety investigator Aaron Sauer said Sunday that a preliminary report on the crash is expected within a week, but a final report will likely take several months.
CNN reports that the Iowa fatality occurred just days after federal investigators released their findings behind the cause of a crash last September at the National Championship Air Races in Reno, Nevada, that killed a pilot and 10 spectators. More than 60 others were injured in the crash.
Investigators found that unprecedented speed and worn aircraft parts were behind the accident.
Screenshot via video
Consoling one another after the fiery crash at the Quad City Air Show.
The Hoppers are a group of private L-39 owners from varying backgrounds who say their goal is to interact with children at airshows to inspire them to achieve.
"The Hoppers have been blessed through hard work and a little luck to be in a position to fly these planes," the team says on its website. "Our goal is for kids to gain an appreciation of what these jets are all about and to walk away thinking 'I could do that too. All I have to do is work hard in school and think big!"
Smith, known as “Skids” by his HopperFlight teammates, was the newest member of the Hoppers, a bio on the team's website says (For Smith's pictureclick here)
Smith left a lucrative job at a Dallas-area technology firm for an early retirement of restoring Soviet fighter jets and flying to exhibitions across the country, Fox news reports.
According to the HopperFlight site, Smith had been a pilot for 24 years and has a commercial pilot's license with an additional instrument rating certification. He had over 2000 hours flying including 600 hours in jets, the site said. Smith was CEO of the Warbird Educational Foundation that owned the Soviet-era jet he was flying.
The Hoppers sent Dallas-Fort Worth's NBC 5 a statement that read in part: "'Skids' was a careful and very accomplished pilot and was rated in a variety of airplanes. He always went out of his way to achieve the Hopper Mission.”