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Investigators probe air show plane crash

September 18, 2011|By JENNIFER FITCH | waynesboro@herald-mail.com
  • The moment of impact shows flames and parts of the airplane after the T-28 crashed during the Thunder Over the Blue Ridge Air Show Saturday.
Submitted by Derek Sterling

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Federal investigators have interviewed other pilots involved in a maneuver that killed one of their teammates Saturday afternoon during the first day of the Thunder Over the Blue Ridge Air Show in Berkeley County, W.Va.

The pilot of a post-World War II airplane participating in an aerobatics maneuver was killed in the crash at the 167th Airlift Wing base. The Associated Press identified the pilot as John “Flash” Mangan of Concord, N.C.

Representatives of the National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration spent Sunday documenting the site, obtaining video, interviewing witnesses, interviewing other pilots from the Trojan Horsemen Flight Demonstration Team and gathering statements from air traffic controllers.

“During our interviews of the two pilots who were flying at the time, neither of them reported seeing anything abnormal or hearing any abnormal discrepancies,” said Tim Monville, an NTSB senior air safety investigator.

Monville explained that Mangan’s T-28 was engaged in an “opposing pass” that began around 300 feet at 2:30 p.m. The two opposing airplanes, which were traveling at 240 knots, or 276 mph, were supposed to pass each other laterally and pull up in front of a crowd of thousands.

“All of the radio calls were reported to be normal by (Mangan) and by the opposing pilot. The first abnormal item that pilot noticed was the smoke on the ground from the impact,” Monville said.

Mangan’s plane hit a grassy field near a runway, started to break apart into pieces and stopped farther north.

“The wreckage has been removed, is secured, and we’re going to start our examination of the wreckage tomorrow, looking at the flight controls and engine to try to determine if there’s any evidence of a mechanical, preimpact failure or malfunction,” Monville said Sunday evening.

Berkeley County Coroner Donald Shirley said an autopsy for Mangan, who reportedly had 4,800 hours of flight time, will be performed Monday in Morgantown, W.Va.

The NTSB is expected to release a preliminary report within 10 days, but it will not address the cause of the crash.

“It’s kind of unusual if we have a determination of probable cause earlier than six months,” NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson said.

A full year typically passes before a complete report with the official cause of a fatal crash is released, Knudson said.

Officials with the West Virginia Air National Guard and Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office said the NTSB is spearheading all investigative matters.

“We’re just providing security and support for the agency,” Sheriff Kenny Lemaster said.

Air show organizers canceled all other activities scheduled for the weekend and made counseling services available to spectators, who can find contact information at www.martinsburgairshow.com.

The affected runway reopened at 4:55 p.m. Sunday, at which time several small aircraft could be seen taking off. Monville said an engineer will need to evaluate the runway because it had oil and debris on it.

“The airplanes that were leaving were the performers,” said Col. Roger Nye, commander of the 167th Airlift Wing.

“I was deeply saddened to learn of the accident that occurred during the Thunder Over the Blue Ridge Air Show,” acting West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said in a statement. “The shock of such a tragedy during a family event such as this is extremely unfortunate for everyone involved.”

The first Thunder Over the Blue Ridge Air Show, which was held in 2010, generated more than $125,000 for charitable causes when about 80,000 people turned out. Volunteers with the United Way of the Eastern Panhandle were collecting donations at the gate and selling food before the crash Saturday.

“We absolutely have not given any thought to (the financial impact) whatsoever. All of our thoughts are with the pilot, his family and all those who were on the ground,” said Jan Callen, the chapter’s executive director.

Callen said he’s thankful for the 300 volunteers, 167th Airlift Wing members, emergency responders and their response, and the pilots who signed up for the event.

The volunteers were very somber after the crash as they organized their booths and prepared to exit the base, Callen said.

“I heard one lady express it was a real kick in the gut,” he said.

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